Posted on: December 13th, 2022. By: Elizabeth Keith, newmarkettoday.ca, Original Article.
As the temperature drops, some Newmarket residents have turned to social media asking what they can do to help those experiencing homelessness this winter.
There are a number of organizations in town and throughout York Region that offer support. One of them is LOFT Community Services.
For decades, it has served the community’s most vulnerable through supportive housing, care co-ordination, and street outreach. For more than 22 years, it has operated a street outreach van in York Region that is open seven days a week (excluding statutory holidays) and travels to meet people’s needs.
“The ultimate goal of the van program is to provide basic needs to those experiencing homelessness and it also offers an opportunity to connect with other support services, like housing,” said Heather McDonald, LOFT’s CEO.
The van is equipped with food, clothing and shoes, sleeping bags, tarps and blankets, condoms, needles, syringes, snorting, crack and crystal meth smoking supplies. Staff on board can include mental health workers, harm reduction and outreach workers, peer support workers, and housing outreach workers.
The van goes to areas where there are encampments set up or where people are known to be in need, but residents are encouraged to call the van, too, if they see someone on the streets they are concerned about.
“We really welcome residents to reach out to us when they see people and are concerned,” McDonald said.
When it comes to serving these individuals, she said it is all about building trust. Some may prefer to live on the streets or outside with a few trusted friends rather than in a shelter, perhaps because it’s full or they don’t feel safe there.
“I often say the transition from homelessness to housing happens at the speed of trust,” she said.
She recalled a client LOFT recently served who she said “experienced homelessness for many years and was camping on the street. It was really hard for her to have her basic needs met. I know there were lots of residents of York Region concerned about her.”
McDonald said that client heard about LOFT and began to visit its programming office in Newmarket for a shower and some snacks and began connecting more often with the street outreach van.
“She was able to come and go as she wanted, to build that trust, and when she was ready, she started to receive those supports.” she said.
Then, in 2020, that client decided she was ready to move into housing and was supported by LOFT in doing that and continues to work with staff to address her physical and mental health needs.
“It is really important to build that trust and to be alongside folks as they build that comfort to make that big next step in their recovery. And every client sets their own goals, and they have to feel empowered to make their own choices or it won’t work,” she said.
However, she said more people are experiencing homelessness due to a shift in substance use, an increase of mental health issues, and increased cost of living. She said the fact community members are seeing this and wanting to help is a sign of how caring people are.
“It’s a testament to our community that people want to do their best when they see someone struggling on the streets of our community,” McDonald said.
She encourages residents to call 1-866-553-4053 to connect with LOFT and the street outreach van, which can go out and visit the individual or area they are concerned about. On top of that, she said, people can make donations to various local organizations that are working to address homelessness.
“They can look at supporting food security, supporting personal hygiene products for people who are homeless, as well as donate to homeless service providers in the region. All of that makes a big difference,” McDonald said. “There are a lot of great organizations working to create solutions, and we’re just one of them.”
There following organization are operating locally to help support the most vulnerable in the community:
- Newmarket Food Pantry provides food to those in need and also operates a community fridge in downtown Newmarket with 24/7 access to food items.
- Inn From the Cold runs a seasonal shelter in Newmarket for people aged 16 and older to have a warm place to stay in the winter. It also runs day programs and housing programs to help those in need.
- Belinda’s Place offers emergency and transitional housing for women as well as drop-in day programming in Newmarket.
- Blue Door provides emergency shelter in York Region with houses for families, men and youth. It also offers other housing, employment, and mental health programs.
- 360 Kids provides support and programming for youth throughout York Region on housing, employment, health and well-being, and education.
People who are seeking shelter can call the York Region Emergency Housing Central Intake Line at 1-877-464-9675, ext. 76140. This line is answered 24/7.
York Region also has a cold weather response plan, which provides services for people experiencing homelessness from November to April. As part of this plan, York Region issues a cold weather alert whenever the forecast is -15 degrees Celsius.
In Newmarket, temporary warming centres at Magna Centre and Ray Twinney Centre are opened when these alerts are in effect.