Out of the Cold began with a surprise friendship and a tragic death. In the early winter of 1987, a group of high school students from St. Michael’s College became close with a local homeless man. After weeks of sharing food, clothing, and conversation, they learned one morning that the man had died.
The death of their friend profoundly impacted the students; so they turned to the school’s chaplain, Sister Susan Moran, for emotional support and guidance. Together, they decided something had to be done to address Toronto’s growing homeless population. Together with the help of Father John Murphy, they teamed up with Canon John Erb to transform an empty storefront on St. Clair West into the first Out of the Cold program.
Sister Susan started connecting with various faith groups across the City to discuss the opportunity of having each group organize volunteers at their Church or Synagogue to provide a safe refuge for people who are homeless. The plan was simply to open their doors one day a week for 23 weeks. They would also provide food and hospitality to homeless men and women, who are considered to be guests of the program.
Although the program initially opened with one faith group, the idea quickly caught on, and in 2018/19 the much-needed service will be offered in 18 different locations across Toronto. Since 2003, Dixon Hall has been contracted by the City of Toronto to provide coordination and support to the Out of the Cold programs.
Since 2006 St Aidan’s Anglican Church on Queen Street in the Beach has been one of the Out of the Cold locations, providing meals and overnight accommodation for about 25 people every Monday night. Volunteers come from across the community, including a number of members of Beach United Church.
As St. Aidan’s prepares for major renovations, now expected to start early in 2019, Beach United has agreed to host their Out of the Cold Program for a couple of years. In anticipation of the coming move, Beach United hosted a smaller pilot project last winter, with a larger cohort of BUC members as volunteers.
This year’s Out of the Cold Program at Beach United will run from November 5 to April 22. To accommodate the 25 homeless people who will sleep overnight, as well as the approximately 60 people who come for dinner every Monday evening, the Out of the Cold program will take over the entire church.
It is expected that many of the volunteers that have supported the program over the past 12 years at St. Aidan’s will continue to support the program during its time at Beach United. Gaps that need to be filled will be offered to those from Beach United who volunteered in the Pilot Project last winter.
We lament the continued crisis of homelessness that makes it necessary to provide this form of shelter. At the same time, we are grateful that we have the resources in our church to be able to respond to the need.
-Paul Dowling, Animator, Ministry of Justice Seeking