As they prepare to return to newly renovated quarters early in the new year, Cornerstone Housing for Women’s Emergency Shelter staff are keenly aware that only about half of the women they have been supporting can be accommodated.
The return “home” will mark the end of a stressful year for both staff and residents as they shuttled from one location to another. With each move the number of residents changed, from 61 pre-pandemic to 125 at one location, then down to 107 at the second.
The renovated permanent facility allows for only 56 women. Those with the greatest needs will be boarding a bus to head back to the renovated shelter. The others will be housed at a city-operated physical distancing centre.
By the time the first move took place just before Christmas 2020, many of the original 61 had already been forced to relocate to hotels because of a lack of physical distancing in the shelter building. The remaining 34 moved to a temporary centre at the University of Ottawa. Complicating matters, the group had to move again in the summer, to a facility in Alta Vista.
The good news is that the shelter has been given a facelift, with heating and electrical upgrades and a fresh coat of paint throughout. Volunteer staff are beginning to return and with them the reintroduction of recreational and learning programs, suspended in the pandemic.
Cornerstone executive director Sarah Davis says operational costs have doubled, and she worries the need will continue to grow through the winter as government Covid-19 emergency programs are phased out.
Over at the Community Ministries day programs – Centre 454, The Well and St Luke’s Table – executive director Rachel Robinson has similar concerns. She says evening and weekend staffing could be in jeopardy.
As the cold weather set in, the day programs expanded their Cots in Church program from St Albans, home of Centre 454, to The Well at St. John’s Elgin Street and St. Luke’s on Somerset Street. In an effort to sustain them, a “Respite Cots Campaign’ was launched.
At any given time during the day, staff watch up to 10 people asleep on cots – in the sanctuary of St Albans, Monday through Saturday, and during weekday hours at The Well. At the time of writing the service was suspended at St Luke’s — because of a staff shortage.
“Our cots provide much-needed respite for those living on the streets, set up to respond to increasing numbers of people who try to sleep outside at night,” says a joint statement.
“The homeless emergency in Ottawa has been made so much worse by the pandemic and we are supporting more and more unsheltered homeless people.”
A staff member, Liz, said: “I recently tucked-in a large grown man with a blanket, and he looked up at me and smiled like a little boy. He was at peace, knowing he could get some sleep for the next few hours. It is heartwarming to see poor souls, who are weary and cold, find a warm and, most important, safe place to rest.”
Before Christmas the staff put out an appeal for 400 gift bags, 270 for men and 130 for women, with hats, mitts, socks, underwear and some cookies and candies. They were to be handed out at Christmas dinners planned for all three locations.