Demand is up for the services of East Elgin Housing Initiative emergency shelter (EEHI) in Aylmer throughout this pandemic year.
The shelter at St. Paul’s United Church on Talbot Street opened to the public on Sunday, Nov. 1, and has already seen more unique guests so far already (11), over all of last year (8).
“I think the situation is worse this year. I personally anticipate that once we get into cold weather, we’re going to have a lot of guests at the door,” said Shelter Supervisor Paul Cowley.
Mr. Cowley said the typical demographic of guests is male, ranging from ages 25-84. Any guests age 24 and under are directed to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in St. Thomas.
Out of the two female guests visiting this year, both were from a single family unit. That included the 43-year-old man and 52-year-old woman involved in a car fire on York Street on Sunday, Nov. 22.
Mr. Cowley noted there was a surge in donations to the EEHI following the incident. The pair were cooking using a propane grill inside their vehicle, when the interior caught fire and the vehicle was engulfed in flames. Both suffered burns from the incident and were sent to the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital.
“They stayed at the shelter 24/7 for about two-and-a-half days after being discharged from the hospital,” noted Mr. Cowley, adding they were also staying at the shelter before the incident.
Special arrangements were made in this case for the couple – normally, the EEHI is only available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They have now found a more stable living situation, added Mr. Cowley.
There are two sleeping spaces available in the shelter, labelled Room 1 and Room 2, with three separate cots in each that allow for physical distancing, for a maximum capacity of six. The shelter recently set a new guest record (total guests at one time) of six, the maximum capacity, on Dec. 15.
Lights are out every night by 11 p.m., but guests are usually asleep by about 7:30 p.m. shortly after arriving, said Mr. Cowley.
Guests are also provided with ready-made foods, including fruit cups, granola bars, soups, frozen pies, oatmeal, nutrition bars, juice, coffee, hot chocolate and tea.
When a guest leaves the shelter each morning, they are provided with a $5 Tim Hortons gift card. Lately, this has cost the EEHI about $25 daily, but this amount varies depending on how many guests stay the night.
Occasionally, guests aren’t sure where to go after departing at 7 a.m., said Mr. Cowley. The gift card allows them to start their day with a coffee or a bagel, and special arrangements at the shelter can be made as needed.
The shelter is run with the hard work of volunteers, who work the full shift from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There are a minimum of two volunteers working at a time. Mr. Cowley said they often arrange their own nap times throughout the night and sleep in the lounge.
“Our calendar is about 80% covered by volunteers until the end of the season,” said Mr. Cowley, adding there is a need for more.
The EEHI is new to the area, having started up last year in 2019. Mr. Cowley said the process to get the shelter up and running took about 18 months.
The operation runs from the beginning of November until March 31. There have been two guests who have used the shelter both this year and last year.
“Once spring gets here, there’s no demand for a shelter,” said Mr. Cowley. “If the weather is warmer, people would rather sleep rough.”
The shelter accepts various donations. For example, Aylmer resident Rachel Ross, 12, donated a total of $120 in the form of 24 $5 Tim Horton’s gift cards.
She made the money through creating and selling her own face masks. Half the profits were donated to the EECI.
“Rachel took sewing lessons when she was younger and got a template off the Internet,” said her mother, Candice, on how the face masks were made.
Rachel worked fast, she added, creating about 48 face masks in about one week. They can be purchased by contacting Candice Ross on her Facebook page.
Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express