St. Thomas hoping to open shelter doors to homeless all year long
ST. THOMAS, Ont. - They can be seen sleeping in the ATM areas of banks and on park benches around St. Thomas, but now they'll have somewhere to go regardless of the season.
Just before noon, a woman passing through town was seen sleeping on Talbot Street after a rainy night outside.
"I was outside in between towns sleeping under a tree," says the woman, who did not wish to be identified.
Starting Tuesday evening, those without a permanent residence can seek refuge at the Inn Out of the Cold. The doors open at 9 p.m., and with enough community help, they won't have to close.
"Our goal is to to achieve enough fundraising sources so that we can stay open year round," says Executive Director Lori Fitzgerald.
Normally 'The Inn' would open with a winter model, but only from November to April. During that time they provide overnight accomodations and a hot supper.
Earlier this month, the organization and city officials announced year-round plans with the addition of a warm weather model.
"We open up for homeless to have a place to go 365," says St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston. "I don't know if its an honour, but its a nessessity for a community our size. We feel a coolness in the air this morning, it's not going to get better."
Preston hopes this more permanent location can provide one-stop shopping for those in need. So they'll not only have shelter, but also get help towards more permanent housing.
To pull it off, they'll need volunteers, "Whether it's making a meal or having a chat...cleaning up, or overnight volunteers...the community is needed as part of this project," adds Preston.
With a year-round operating cost of about $450,000, Preston adds they will need funds as well as businesses and their staff to volunteer their time.
In the short term, the Small Business Enterprise Centre is hosting a concert with all proceeds going to the shelter. The event will feature local artists Ben Heffernan and Genevieve Fisher.
Fitzgerald is thankful for all the community partners and businesses holding fundraisers.
"The future of 'The Inn' does rely on individual and business donors. We are hoping to build a solid donor base, but in the meantime we need monthly donors. Going forward these type of events will help us have services as well."
The warm weather model (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) will be in effect for the next couple of weeks before switching over to the cold weather model in November (6 p.m. to 8 a.m.).