By David Onuoha
With rising housing costs across Ontario, owning or renting homes has become a problem for many. For many people living in poverty, housing has simply become unaffordable, with the cost of even renting a room beyond reach. This trend is not confined to Toronto anymore, either; Mississauga is a big city, and homelessness is an issue right in our own backyard. There has been a marked increase in the number of homeless people in the Mississauga—Lakeshore area. Anecdotally, volunteers at The Compass have noted that more and more clients are coming in with the unfortunate news that they are no longer in their homes.
Navigating the complexities of life without shelter is harder in the harsh winter months. Every year, thousands of people sleep outside in freezing weather. The consequences of this range from sickness and injury, to death.
What Did We Do About It?
With more Compass clients facing the prospect of spending extremely cold nights outside, a few of the churches in our community opened their doors to these folks this past winter. St. Bride’s Anglican Church, St. Christopher’s Roman Catholic Church, and Clarkson Road Presbyterian Church all worked together to launch The Compass’ first In from the Cold program in early 2019.
On January 30, 2019, when temperatures reached -23 ⁰C (before wind chill) overnight in Mississauga, St. Bride’s opened its doors at 8:00 PM for Compass clients. Volunteers served a pizza dinner and provided tea and coffee. Lights out was at 10:00 PM, and wake-up was at 6:30 AM. The clients were then taken back to The Compass for breakfast. The next day, St. Christopher’s followed suit to host Compass clients overnight; a few weeks later, Clarkson Presbyterian Church joined in as well.
These three churches were open for the coldest nights from January 30 to the end of March. In from the Cold used the weather forecast as its guide: if the predicted temperature was to dip below “feels like” -15 ⁰C at any point overnight, then the church responsible for that night would notify The Compass that they would be open overnight. Volunteers were on standby on those days, waiting to be called into action.
Emergency shelter programs, while vital, are not long-term solutions to the affordable housing crisis in our community. Compass clients and other low-income people who call Mississauga home are being priced out of the area, and fast.
We need to engage with all levels of government to get the Homes We Need. The upcoming federal election in October 2019 is a key moment. Let’s tell our candidates that everyone needs a place to call home. And those who make their homes in Mississauga—Lakeshore should be able to stay here, regardless of their income level.
The Compass Advocacy Committee continues to engage all levels of government on issues surrounding homelessness and affordable housing in Mississauga—Lakeshore. Until then, people will continue to need access to warm beds during the winter. The Compass is already planning for winter 2019/2020. The In from the Cold coordinating group is hoping to find more locations and volunteers looking to spend a night helping their neighbours. The hope is to move the program to a centralized venue and then have volunteers from the community come together to host at that single location.
David Onuoha is a project manager. He volunteers with The Compass Advocacy Committee and was instrumental in organizing the In from the Cold program last winter. For inquiries, contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org.