Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, printed under the title "Warm up to Out of the Cold by volunteering"
This year marks my eleventh year volunteering with the Out of the Cold overnight shift, and as ever, our shift needs more volunteers. Perhaps you?
Out of the Cold is an overflow program helping those who find themselves without a safe place to sleep on a winter’s night, when the formal shelters are full. Churches open their basements and citizens volunteer to serve them dinner, keep them company, watch over them as they sleep and provide breakfast when they wake. Running 7 nights a week on a 4-week rotation with 50 volunteers per night, the program depends on 1400 citizens stepping forward each winter to give up a few hours helping our most needy.
While there is always a demand for dinner, evening, and breakfast volunteers, the greatest need is for those who can spend the night. My own hours are flexible, so I’ve always had an overnight position. If you, too, have flexible time or are a retiree, perhaps you’d consider giving a night, too.
My shift starts at 11 pm when the guests are already asleep. Most nights are pretty quiet; main duties are to process late entrants or provide snacks or drinks as needed. In over a decade of serving I’ve only had to call in emergency services thrice; each time they came promptly and dealt with the situation. The overnight shift, at 7 hours, is the longest but has the least happening, if all goes well. Often there is time in the wee hours to catch up on some reading, write some letters, or do your favourite word or number puzzles.
Before my shift ends at 6 am, we’ve put out an urn of fresh coffee for breakfast and woken a few guests who have to get to work on time. Yes, we actually have homeless working people! In today’s economy, many jobs don’t pay enough or aren’t stable enough to allow people to secure affordable housing, and rooms or bachelor apartments are in very short supply. Like the shelters, Out of the Cold also serves people who have suddenly lost their housing due to misfortune, or for some reason can’t safely go home that night.
Out of the Cold always needs donations of food and money, but mostly time. If you can find it in your heart to help the less fortunate, contact (705) 331-1396 or check here for specific vacancies. Any help is appreciated, especially if you can volunteer or be a spare for an overnight shift. Both men and women are needed, as we get both (and sometimes children) needing a warm place to sleep. Your efforts will be gratefully appreciated by those who otherwise would risk freezing to death, or worse.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.