'Unhoused people are part of our community': downtown church soon to open an overnight shelter

Starting Dec. 1, a church in downtown London will begin to operate as an overnight shelter.

Sarah Campbell, the executive director of Ark Aid Street Mission is hoping to see the number of homeless people decline. The organization is working with First-St. Andrew’s United Church to provide a warm place for people to stay.

“We believe that there’s somewhere between 250 and 400 people sleeping on the streets, or in stairwells or on people's couches in the city of London,” said Campbell.

The church’s hall provides enough space for nearly 40 beds and a kitchen, according to Campbell. However, the entire church can accommodate 69 people who require a space to stay for a short while.

The goal is to make sure there is always a place for people to drop in during the cold winter months.

Reverend Joshua Lawrence of First-St. Andrew’s United said, “We know that unhoused persons are part of our community and we also know that people of faith we need to walk the walk, not just use prayers and gestures.”

Lawrence and his family relocated to London from Houston, TX where he was involved in hurricane recovery work.

“We were thrilled that we were going to be a part of a community here that has been committed to outreach since its inception,” said Lawrence.

This year, as part of the city’s winter response to homelessness plan, “we were able to offer 24-hour drop-in space, 12 hours at the YMCA during the day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 12 hours from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. at First-St. Andrew’s,” Lawrence explained.

On Dec. 6 the overnight shelters hours of operation will be from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. In January the shelter's hours will change from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. at First-St. Andrew’s.

These services are being funded with help from the city’s winter response to homelessness plan which includes a variety of drop-in locations and supports systems.

Craig Cooper the director of housing stability services with the city of London said, “We’re never going to push somebody to go somewhere they don’t want to go. We’re going to give opportunities as much as we can and still focus on the solution to homelessness being housing. We recognize that people need some support to get there.”

To help serve those staying overnight, the church is looking for 24 volunteers to help with handing out food and daily operations.

On Friday goodwill industries will have a fundraiser called ‘Outside in’ which invites people to listen to stories from those who have lived on the streets of London.

“This is a great opportunity to educate and to also grow sensitivity,” said Campbell. “We don’t pretend in any way that this is a solution to homelessness but that this is part of the lifesaving measures that we as humans need to be taking action.”

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