Homelessness here in Oxford
The annual St. John’s Anglican Church Outreach Committee Shower Saturday morning at the church included (front row, left to right): Ellie Ward and Mary Lou Sergeant; and in the back row, Marily Spice and Eric Schmiedl of Operation Sharing; and Elaine Balpataky and Sharron Hurst, pictured here with some of the shower gifts.
It would be convenient to label homelessness as an issue exclusive to major cities.
But that simply is not true.
“They exist, otherwise, we wouldn’t be in operation,” said Eric Schmiedl, Operation Sharing Inn Out Of The Cold Homeless Shelter Coordinator Saturday morning at St. John’s Anglican Church in Tillsonburg. “It’s not just big cities, it’s here, right here in Oxford County.
“The reality right in front of your eyes, sort of thing.”
Operation Sharing, an entity supported by 45 churches or church-related organizations began operating The Inn Out Of The Cold roughly a decade ago in the basement of the Old St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Woodstock’s parish hall.
St. John’s Anglican Church in Tillsonburg is one of the supporting organizations, based on its annual Mid-Winter Shower coordinated by the church’s outreach committee.
Its inception stretches back a decade or so, to a bridal shower held for a 65-year-old congregational member, says outreach committee member Elaine Balpataky.
“We enjoyed it so much, we just thought we’d keep it going.”
Participants share in a productive social occasion by bringing in shower gifts themed to the three organizations supported on a rotational basis: Inn Out Of The Cold, Ingamo Family Homes and Fresh Start Maternity Support.
“It’s just one way we can reach out to the community,” said Balpataky.
Saturday’s shower began at 10 a.m., featuring gifts, baked treats and a presentation/Q&A featuring both Schmiedl and an Inn Out Of The Cold patron.
The ‘Inn’ is open to guests 7 p.m.-7:30 p.m. seven days a week, through the winter months from November 15 to the end of March.
“It’s designed to prevent people from freezing to death,” said Schmiedl.
The Inn is operated by a group of a dozen core volunteers, supported by others on a more temporary basis. Patrons are provided with a single mattress on the floor (males and females are housed on opposite sides of the facility), a nightly meal courtesy of four or five Woodstock restaurants and volunteer cooks, breakfast, shower options at the local YMCA and when available, Tim Horton’s gift cards.
“A place to stay, dinner, a place to play cards or watch TV and breakfast in the morning,” Schmiedl summed up.
Guests must be at least 16 years of age, says Schmiedl, noting patrons in their early 70s are not out of the ordinary.
“But you can be 105 and we’ll take you in.”
Homelessness flies under the radar, in part perhaps because it is an issue people don’t want to address, prefer to ignore, and whose affected members tend to lay low.
“It’s kind of all of the above,” said Schmiedl.
The majority of Inn clients are there because they are out of work, he said.
“That’s probably number one.”
But the list also includes one half of those involved in a domestic dispute, separated by police for a cooling down period; transients who travel from shelter to shelter to shelter, those suffering from mental illness, those on Ontario works finding it difficult to cover expenses, and those making the transition from incarceration back onto their feet.
Inn Out Of The Cold contacts OPP detachments throughout the county says Schmiedl, indicating operations are underway and overnight accommodation is available. Clients do come into the Woodstock facility from throughout Oxford, he confirmed, including Tillsonburg.
Roughly 50 individuals utilized the Inn through the winter of 2012/13 said Schmiedl, and to date, between 35 and 40 have thus far in 2013/14, including seven female clients. Typically, 10 were on hand earlier in the winter, with around six per night, at the moment, says Schmiedl.
The Inn relies on volunteers and donations for operation, supported financially by ‘pots’ of money at St. Paul’s in Woodstock and Operation Sharing.
“They are pretty small pots,” said Schmiedl, noting the impressive pile of food, clothing and gift cards donated at Saturday morning’s shower, was “extremely appreciated.
“This stuff helps keep us going.”