A handful of volunteers packed about 1,000 winter kits on Saturday that will be distributed to people experiencing homelessness in Toronto.
GlobalMedic, a charity based in Toronto that provides disaster relief, organized the packing at its warehouse in Etobicoke. Each kit contains a toque and a pair of socks as well as basic personal hygiene items, including shampoo, soap, deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
About 15 people volunteered to pack the kits, which were put into sealable plastic bags and then into boxes. Each box contains about 10 kits. Community agencies that work with unhoused people are expected to pick up the boxes as early as Monday for distribution next week.
Rahul Singh, executive director of GlobalMedic, said on Saturday that homelessness is a huge problem in Toronto that has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a great need for individual items that make up the winter kit, he said.
"A lot of people have been suffering because of COVID-19. A lot of people lost work. A lot of people lost their places to live. A lot of people that were on the outside looking in didn't have opportunities to get back into the workforce and to get back into the housing system," Singh said.
"At the same time, you have all these city agencies and community agencies that are working feverishly to help them. When we analyze situations like that, we think: 'How can we best help?' And by preparing kits and getting them into the right hands so that they can get them out to the families that need them the most and the homeless, well, that's the right thing to do," he added.
"Because the problem is so immense right now, we felt it was important to provide assistance in this area."
Singh said about 1,000 kits have a retail value of about $20,000, but the kits will cost GlobalMedic under $500 because the items were donated and the labour involved in packing the kits was volunteer. The $500 was spent on bags, tape and boxes.
"By having the volunteers here, we flatten out the cost. By getting the donations of the product, we eliminate the cost there as well. We are able to push this out to agencies to help," he said.
Volunteers packed for an hour and a half on Saturday. They wore masks as they packed in the warehouse. GlobalMedic volunteers are from all walks of life and include high school students doing their volunteer hours as well as members of churches.
"We're all here for one cause," Singh said. "Our job is literally just to be the supply chain for community agencies."
9,000 people experiencing homelessness in Toronto
According to the City of Toronto's Shelter System Flow Data page, a total of 9,199 people were actively experiencing homelessness in the city at the end of November. This page provides a monthly snapshot of homelessness in Toronto.
The number is nearly 2,000 more than the capacity of the city's shelter system, according to the city of Toronto's Daily Shelter and Overnight Service Usage page. This page provides a daily snapshot of the number of people who use the shelter system.
City data shows that 7,281 people used the city's shelter system on Thursday night.
According to its website, GlobalMedic has responded to 237 disasters in 78 countries.