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Winter shelter need rising

Kitchener- Waterloo Record - Tuesday January 7, 2003
by Frank Etherington

WATERLOO REGION -- Emergency programs providing food and beds for homeless people at Kitchener-Waterloo churches are reporting "startling increases" in the number of people sheltered this winter.

The increases are the highest recorded since Out of the Cold programs were established four winters ago to get people off the streets.

This year's programs began in early November and, since then, the seven churches have seen 22 per cent more people looking for beds compared to the same period last winter, Out of the Cold statistician Dennis Watson said yesterday.

And, for the first time in the program's history, two extra Kitchener-Waterloo churches have opened Wednesdays and Fridays to provide beds for an overflow of homeless people who couldn't be accommodated at the customary Out of the Cold establishments without breaching fire department safety regulations.

Compared to the first part of last winter, volunteers also provided meals for 20 per cent more homeless people this winter, said Watson, who is also Out of the Cold organizer at Kitchener's downtown Trinity United Church.

Every night between November and April, about 1,500 Out of the Cold volunteers provide shelter and food for needy men and women at 14 churches in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.

Watson said statistics show 2,645 people -- many of them repeat visitors -- have slept at Kitchener-Waterloo churches so far this winter compared to 2,170 during the same period last winter -- an increase of 22 per cent.

At Trinity so far this winter, 468 people required beds when the church opened on Monday nights compared to 355 in the same period last winter, a 32 per cent increase.

The 20 per cent hike in meals meant Kitchener-Waterloo churches provided food for 4,014 people, compared to 3,345 last winter.

Watson said a reduction in the number of teens showing up at churches is one of the few positive changes noted at Out of the Cold this winter.

"This is the first time we have used backup churches because of fire regulations and nothing shocks me any more about the program," said Watson. "We would like to see less people but the numbers continue to climb. We're seeing startling, significant increases."

He said the increases mean Kitchener's downtown St. Matthews Lutheran Church was forced to use St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church on East Avenue for backup beds on Wednesday nights. On Fridays, Waterloo's First United Church has used backup shelter provided at W-K United Mennonite Church on George Street.

Similar statistics were not available yesterday for seven Cambridge churches that provide Out of the Cold shelter and food.

The other Out of the Cold churches in Kitchener-Waterloo are: St. Louis Catholic Church, Allen Street East, Waterloo (Sunday nights); Benton Street Baptist, Kitchener (Tuesdays); St. John's Evangelical Lutheran, Willow Street, Waterloo (Thursdays) and Bethany Evangelical Missionary, Lancaster Street East, Kitchener (Saturdays).

The Cambridge churches are: St. John's United Church, 241 Cedar St., Galt (Sundays); Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Elgin Street North, Galt (Mondays); Wesley United, Cambridge Street, Galt (Tuesdays); St. Ambrose Catholic, South Street, Galt (Wednesdays); St. Andrews Presbyterian, Queen Street East, Hespeler (Thursdays); Knox Presbyterian, Argyle Street North, Preston (Fridays); and Maranatha Christian Reformed, Elgin Street South (Saturdays).

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