As the temperatures start to dip to the freezing mark in Southwestern Ontario, it's going to be a tough ride ahead for those living on the street.

"Layers and will power," says Khrystal, who was sitting on the sidewalk in downtown St. Thomas.

"I live day by day, nightmare by nightmare. I've been homeless for a year now, and it's getting harder and harder."


Khrystal has been homeless for a year in St. Thomas (Brent Lale / CTV News)

Those in need in St. Thomas got some positive news this week when MPP Jeff Yurek announced $927,831.00 in Special Services Relief Funding for his hometown.

"COVID-19 has been rough in our area here," says Yurek, MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London.

"We have seen a need for a shelter especially during last seven months where we have seen more and more people on the streets and living in tents. As we head into winter, Inn out of Cold is only a part-time shelter, we need a full-time shelter."

The city of St. Thomas has four months to provide a detailed plan for the shelter to the Ontario Government. However Yurek says because they have already started working on it, he expects it to be submitted imminently.

The city will work in determining if they can find an existing building or whether they need to start from scratch.

They will continue to have conversations with Inn out of the Cold to see how best to serve those in need in the community.

"We're very pleased to be part of the discussions now," says Lori Fitzgerald, director of Inn out of the Cold.

"We've been meeting with city since March around COVID-19 response to homeless individuals. I'm excited for the conversations of a more permanent nature to meet the needs of the people we serve."

Fitzergald says COVID-19 has brought the homelessness issues to the forefront. Because they are now using 423 Talbot Street in St. Thomas as a drop-in centre downtown during the day, it has made those they serve more visible.


423 Talbot Street is the St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works building (Brent Lale / CTV News)

"We've gone from 156 individuals served, to now 277 over the past six months once you include the day-time centre," says Fitzergald.

"Going forward it's going to enable us to continue to provide services but do it in a coordinated, focused way under one roof.  Our hope is we can find the location to meet the needs of those during the day and those needing to shelter at night. Also a place for them to store things. We'd bring in partners and make it a social services hub."

Word of the new provincial funds is spreading among the local homeless community.

"It's a start that we need," says Cindy, a woman sitting across from the Ontario Works building on Talbot Street.

"When this (day-time drop in centre) is closed, we have nowhere to go. Being homeless is nothing to be ashamed of. If you hit a rough spot it doesn't mean you are here forever."

Beginning Sunday, the Inn out of the Cold will switch to its winter hours.

"As of tomorrow we're opening doors at 6:30pm and there is always a rush to get in and get that hot meal that is served," says Fitzgerald.