Alliston Out of the Cold may not be able to operate this year due to a shortage of volunteers.
The majority of its regular volunteers are older or live with somebody who is more vulnerable to COVID-19, preventing them from helping out this year.
So far, about 20 volunteers are confirmed for the upcoming winter season but 85 to 100 is what’s been needed in the past.
"We need volunteer manpower to run our shelter, if we don't have the manpower; if we don't have enough volunteers, unfortunately we are faced with having to ultimately, on the drastic end, close the doors [and] we won't be able to operate a shelter for the season,” said Jennifer Pergentile, Alliston Out of the Cold Executive Director.
She said the shelter’s regular start date of November 1 may be delayed or its hours of operation could be reduced if they cannot find enough new volunteers.
Anyone over 18 is welcome to volunteer. They just require training and a vulnerable sector screening.
In addition to creating a volunteer shortage, COVID-19 has also reduced the number of people Alliston Out of the Cold can accommodate each night from 12 to a maximum of eight.
“At peak times in our season… we know that we see numbers between eight and 12 a night, so the reality is already we know we're going to have to turn people away, so we know this is a very much needed service,” noted Pergentile.
"Without COVID in the mix, we have seen a steady increase throughout the last several seasons… the numbers of people accessing us has gone up every year."
Through Simcoe County’s Homeless Enumeration Report in 2018, they identified nearly 700 homeless people and 24 of them reside in Alliston.
That number is likely to increase this year with the negative mental health impact, economic turmoil and increase in substance use caused by COVID-19.
Alliston Out of the Cold started in November of 2017 and has gained significant traction since its launch.
The service runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through the winter months to ensure everyone in the community has a warm place to stay through the night, regardless of their financial situation.
Alliston Out of the Cold is working on launching outreach within the community to help people find the resources they need, said Pergentile.
“Our goal is to be serving people in the community who are not just experiencing homelessness but people who are at risk of experiencing homelessness,” she explained.
“We've helped people get into residential treatment for addictions and mental health – connecting them with the proper health, mental health, housing, and food supports.”
Alliston Out of the Cold is also helping direct individuals in Beeton and Tottenham to social services, since those communities are generally underserved, Pergentile noted.
A Community Dinner is offered through the organization, which served up to 50 guests a night, with an average of 10-20 last year. Over the course of the season roughly 1,500 meals were served.
COVID-19 is driving food prices up in Canada and the number of people struggling with food insecurity is likely to increase this coming winter season.
Pergentile said New Tecumseth has an extremely generous volunteer community that always comes together when it matters most.
“We’ve been blessed by a lot of donations from the community to be able to run this program and we are just incredibly blessed to live in a community that’s giving, generous, giving of their time, giving of their money, giving of their things,” she stressed.
“We have never operated with any funds from outside funding sources other than the incredible kindness of our community through donations and some support through peripheral organizations or the Town.”
To volunteer and help the seasonal service go forward this year email email@example.com or call 705-435-7293.
Sam Odrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times