Walking into the office of Heyworth House I am welcomed by the friendly smile of Haydar Shouly. He apologizes for the clutter and explains that with the start of Out of the Cold (OOTC) the space has turned into more of a storage unit. Shouly is a manager of housing and homelessness services for Dixon Hall, a community based not-for-profit that runs programs for all ages. More specifically, he manages Heyworth House, a homeless shelter located at 2714 Danforth Avenue. In my opinion, the office did not seem out of sorts at all–especially when I learned what a large undertaking OOTC has become.
OOTC is an initiative that Dixon Hall undertook in 2003. It aims to provide shelter and food for homeless people throughout Toronto during the winter months. “Our Out of the Cold program is a seasonal program, it’s November to April, and we have 17 sites in the city of Toronto.” Shouly says the sites are primarily faith-based organization such as “synagogues, churches, and some drop-ins.” Dixon Hall staffs 15 of the sites, “meaning we provide support with transportation, blankets, and so on. The rest of the work–that would include food, volunteers, the physical site–are the churches and synagogues.” Each site usually operates once a week on a rotational basis. Often, two sites will be open in one night so that different areas of the city are able to provide the necessary means for overnight shelter. Dixon Hall’s professional services are an invaluable asset to an initiative such as OOTC. Not only do they provide the aforementioned services but they are able to establish a rapport with members of the homeless community.
With this rapport Dixon Hall seeks to utilize OOTC as a gateway to a more stable living situation for those in the sites. The hope is that people will move from the OOTC program to a more established shelter, that runs year round, and eventually into the housing services offered by Dixon Hall. Unfortunately, this is not a common occurrence, as “some may move to shelters, but the majority of them don’t,” says Shouly. Not only that but the number of people using the overnight services provided by OOTC is very low. Dixon hall provides 70-75 beds for the make-shift shelters, often times to no avail, “the sites have two main components: one is dinner, the food program that they offer, and the other one is for those who stay overnight…. The number of those who use the meal program has increased… [but] many of the people that use the program for the meal leave the site and we have a small number of people that stay overnight.” It is a problem that is worsened by the fact that many members of the homeless community have mental health and addiction related issues, making it that much harder to reach out to them.
However, it is vital to maintain the optimistic hope in which OOTC is operated. As mentioned, more people are using the meal options seasonally. Shouly states that some sites have upwards of 400 people eating on a daily basis. According to the Dixon Hall website, 3000 volunteers work at the OOTC shelters annually. Legal services and laundry facilities are other ventures being promoted to, and used by, the homeless citizens of the city. With the efforts of Haydar Shouly, Dixol Hall, and the like, these positives can be parlayed into even greater ventures for empowering the homeless community of Toronto.
Volunteer opportunities with Dixon Hall are available all year. Head on over here if you are interested in helping get the homeless out of the cold.
Ethan Lipson is a writer and reader that has a passion for weight lifting and pro wrestling. He is an expert couch surfer and will never turn down a slice of pepperoni pizza. If you like failed sitcoms and awkward pauses, follow him on twitter and instagram.