By Clayton Andres and Thomas Hall
As the winter weather worsens, Ottawa’s homeless try to find a place to escape from the cold. But many local shelters are facing difficulties of their own.
“We’re at capacity and there’s not a whole lot more room,” said Shirley Roy, manager of community relations at Ottawa Mission.
The shelter has more than 230 beds available during the year, but already filled them six weeks ago. Every night, the staff put out mats on the floor to accommodate the overflow of people seeking a place to stay.
According to Roy, one of the contributing factors to this overflow is “chronic homelessness,” where people cycle in and out of shelters and many of them end up staying at the same place for several years.
Greg Morley has been staying at different shelters around town since July. He is currently spending his nights at the Shepherds of Good Hope in the Byward Market but was previously at the Ottawa Mission on Waller Street.
Morley said at both places he saw “pretty much the same” group of people staying over every night.
“Generally speaking, once they got a bunk, they’re pretty much there.”
Roy said the Ottawa Mission rarely turns away people seeking shelter, but the number of people staying long term has become more of a concern for the staff.
Between 40 to 50 of the Mission’s current residents have been staying there for more than two years, Roy said.
“It’s an emergency shelter, it’s supposed to be for people in crisis,” he said. “But we don’t want to turn anyone away, especially during the winter.”
Homeless adults aren’t the only ones worried about the number of full shelters.
Jason Pino is the director of Restoring Hope Youth Shelter, which is aimed towards teens and young adults who can’t find any other place to stay.
“There’s two other youth shelters running at 100 per cent capacity all the time,” Pino said.
Most of the young adults Pino encounters, he said, were turned away from other youth shelters because there’s no room or because they were too old. Young adults over 19 years old are usually sent to shelters like the Ottawa Mission, despite the lack of beds.
The youth shelter is only able to run once a week providing six beds for anyone who comes by looking for a place to stay.
Pino said since the shelter set aside a room for girls, he hasn’t had to turn anyone down, but with the cold setting in, it’s a real concern.
“Our number one request from the teens is ‘When are you guys going to be open more often?’ ” Pino said.
In many cases homeless youth living in the cold with nowhere to go are taken advantage of and manipulated into prostitution and the drug trade, according to Pino.
“I really want to drive home how vulnerable these kids are,” he said. “If we’re not here to provide these spaces, other people will jump in.”
Pino said his shelter is working with the city so it can open its doors more nights of the week, perhaps by early next year.
For the time being, many shelters are looking for alternative solutions to their bed shortage problems.
Peter Tilley, the executive director of the Ottawa Mission, said his shelter is working on more active ways to get its long-term clients the help they need instead of keeping them at an emergency shelter.
“We want to be a short-term stay shelter,” Tilley said. “So we have case workers now meeting with clients one-on-one, talking about housing options.”
Tilley said the biggest problem in motivating clients is the fear they have of what might happen. He said the mental health of some homeless is also a big obstacle.
“When they come here, they reach a new comfort level and may not want to move on. There’s a fear of change, especially for those with mental health issues.”Share Tweet