The Out Of the Cold movement emerged out of a tragedy at St. Michael’s Collegiate, an all-boys high school in Toronto. In late 1985, students discovered a homeless man living on the school’s grounds. They quickly bonded with the man, whose name was George, providing him with food and friendship. Within weeks, however, George was brutally beaten by unknown assailants and died shortly afterward.
Imagine the feelings of those young men as they took part in funeral rites for George at neighbouring All Angels’ Anglican church: grief, anger and bewilderment must have been among them. But their bleak emotions also gave rise to a desire to take action, and with some well-directed help from teacher Sister Susan Moran, the idea for Out of the Cold was born.
All Angels’ church played a pivotal role, offering the use of an old photography shop around the corner from the high school on St. Clair Ave. The students cleaned it up, and on Jan. 15, 1988, a sign went up outside offering food and shelter to anyone in need. Sister Susan remembers making a pot of stew for opening day. Very quickly, the shelter was feeding 50-100 people every week.
Over the next few years, students made a point of remembering guests’ birthdays. Santa was a regular visitor at Christmas, bringing personalized presents for one and all. And Sister Susan went far beyond making stew. She visited churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, delivering the same urgent request that they open up one night a week to the hungry and homeless. In the winter of 2009-2010, 19 faith communities in the city of Toronto were honouring that promise.
More recently, the city of Toronto has contracted with Dixon Hall to act as city coordinator for the Out Of The Cold programs.
In many ways, the Out Of The Cold movement is the antithesis of popular one-size-fits-all ‘manual-driven’ approaches to social issues such as hunger and homelessness. Programs are notably supported by large numbers of volunteers, thin on leadership, shockingly creative when faced with never-ending challenges, and continuing to work effectively without a centralized governing body.
Out of the Cold programs exist across the country, from Vancouver to Halifax, but most programs are concentrated in Southern Ontario communities around Toronto. Some communities have programs with closely related names like Inn Out of the Cold. Other well-meaning programs appear to have come and gone, still others have evolved with new names and expanded mandates. Cambridge in particular provides an exemplary example of what is possible. Started by seven local churches in 1998, by 2005, the Cambridge Out of the Cold program had grown to become a permanent one-roof solution, opening a 3.2 million dollar structure to provide dependable support to the city’s marginalized. The Bridges is maintained by a force of more than 1,000 volunteers.
The idea for an Out of the Cold Program in the north section of Simcoe County was hatched in the minds of leaders at the local chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance To End Homelessness (SCATEH) in 2003. Midland is a hub community, providing stores and services for about three times its own 16,000 population. As a result of its beautiful location at the base of Georgian Bay, the area’s population is thought to triple in size during much of summer.
After a few months of planning, the Midland Out of the Cold shelter first opened its doors in January 2004. The first season was essentially a trial run, opening only three evenings of the week from January to the end of March. By December and the start of the second season, need had given rise to the program running every day of the week from November to April. Over the next three seasons, the program moved daily from church to church in Midland (and for one day of the week, Penetanguishene). Volunteers in the early years recall the frustrations of having to transport large bins of supplies and bedding from one building to another. Guests, too, were sometimes found wandering the streets, unable to remember which church was hosting Out of the Cold on which day.
In response to such challenges, Out of the Cold leaders secured in 2007 sufficient funds to create a permanent shelter in the basement of Knox Presbyterian Church in Midland. Functional but not luxurious, the new space has a washer and dryer, a shower and dedicated kitchen facilities for volunteers to use in the preparation of meals.
Over the eight seasons since moving into Knox, hundreds of volunteers have served over 40,000 suppers and provided more than 13,000 overnight stays for guests. As of Nov 15, 2012, Midland Out of the Cold is now a year-round operation. In 2013, Out of the Cold changed its name to The Guesthouse Shelter. At the start of 2014, after 10 years of volunteer support, The Guesthouse Shelter began receiving government funding to help support the operations. By the summer of 2016, a relocation is planned to a safe, sustainable, accessible facility nearby to the current location. To that end, your support in making our vision a reality is needed. Click here to donate.