Newsletter: How can we help people who are sleeping outside this winter?

You’re reading the January 12, 2021 edition of the News and Updates email from Peterborough Currents. To receive these emails straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning, and happy new year! Ayesha and I are getting back into the swing of things after our holidays, and we’re looking forward to sharing more local news and stories with you in 2021.

Before we start, I want to thank the almost 50 individuals who have signed up as regular monthly supporters of Peterborough Currents. In 2021, we won’t survive without ongoing support from our readers. It means a lot to know that you value our work enough to make a contribution. Thank you! Haven’t signed up yet? You can do so here.

Okay, let’s get into the news!

United Way funds One City initiative to support community members living outside this winter

Over the weekend, night-time temperatures dropped to -15 C. With months left in winter, there is plenty more cold weather ahead of us.

When the weather gets this cold, I think of the people in Peterborough who do not have homes. For some individuals, the shelter system offers a safe and warm place to spend time and to sleep. But we know that not everyone is allowed at shelters in Peterborough, and some choose not to use the shelters.

So how can we support individuals who cannot or choose not to use the local shelters, and who are living outside as a result?

That’s the question One City Peterborough is looking to answer with a new initiative the charity just launched. Thanks to a grant from United Way Peterborough that was awarded in December, One City has hired a team of outreach workers to support people who are living outside, including by giving them survival gear such as tents and sleeping bags to keep warm.

“We know that there’s a lot of people outside right now,” says Christian Harvey, the executive director of One City. “How many? We don’t know. We just know there are people.”

That means the first step is locating the folks who are outside. But doing that in a way that is respectful isn’t completely straightforward. “How do we make sure people feel supported, while not feeling like their tent site is being invaded?” Harvey asks.

Because of the municipal bylaw that prohibits camping in public places, tenters often don’t want to be found out of fear that they will be forced to move, Harvey says. “So we don’t want to just go looking for people and find their tents when they don’t want to be found.”

Just a few weeks into the four-month program, Harvey says One City is experimenting to develop a model for how to be supportive of community members living outside, without infringing on their privacy.

“We’re really grateful that the United Way decided to fund this program,” Harvey says. “They’re a group that is willing to take risks and explore new ways of supporting people.”

I know Christian Harvey as a long-time advocate for permanent housing as the solution to homelessness, not shelters or tents. So I asked him how it feels to be supporting people to live outside, which is not a long-term solution.

“We wrestled with that,” Harvey responded, “and a big part of it is harm reduction.” With so little appropriate and affordable housing available to people living in poverty, “we have to look at the reality of the situation. How do we make sure people survive?”

One City also operates a housing program for people exiting homelessness.

I’ll be following One City’s work this winter, and I’ll write more as the project develops. Let me know if you have any questions about it.

New stories on our website

One person’s junk … can be a child’s treasure
The Peterborough landfill is approaching its capacity. By one estimation, the dump has at most 15 years left in its life. That means local waste diversion efforts are more important than ever. 

This week, I published a story about a waste diversion initiative from local childcare and education provider Compass Early Learning and Care. Compass is taking discarded materials from local business and industry, and repurposing them to use as toys and educational tools for children.

“We’re really thinking about sustainability,” says Angela Hoar, who coordinates the program. “We’re making sure that we are redirecting stuff from landfills and incinerators, and offering it back to the children.”

Angela Hoar at Compass Early Learning and Care’s loose parts warehouse, where materials discarded by local business and industry are repurposed into children’s toys. Hoar is a pedagogical mentor and the materials initiative coordinator at Compass. (Photo: Will Pearson)

An interview with Hilary Wear
In case you missed it in the most recent issue of the Undercurrent, we posted our interview with theatre artist and clown Hilary Wear on our website. Have a read.

Other news

  • COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise across Ontario, including in Peterborough, where there have been over 50 new cases each week for the past three weeks. In this interview, the CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association discusses the severity of the crisis.
  • Meanwhile, the local medical officer of health Dr. Rosana Salvaterra will deliver a free online presentation about the local vaccine rollout this Friday. Questions from the public are invited. More information here.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading and take care.

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