Out of the Cold – Program Milestones and Evolution

As the weather turns warmer and winter slowly turns to spring, another season of Out of the Cold comes to an end.

Founded in 1987 through the work of Sister Susan Moran, the OOTC program has now been in operation for 30 years. The program was initially developed after a group of students from St. Michael’s school befriended a local homeless man, providing him with food and clothing. Over the span of a few weeks the relationship deepened, until he tragically passed away.

His death resulted in the students and Sister Susan seeking to help the growing homeless population in Toronto. Sister Susan connected with faith groups across the city and asked them to organize volunteers in their place of worship to provide a safe place for the homeless to stay once a week for 23 weeks. The idea was to provide homeless men and women with food and shelter, as well as fellowship and hospitality. The OOTC program has grown to include 16 faith-based groups that provide shelter during the winter months.

The 2016-2017 OOTC season marks the 15th anniversary of Dixon Hall’s involvement with the Out of the Cold program, providing support to the faith-based groups who graciously open their doors to Toronto’s homeless population. Sadly, this year also saw the passing of Sister Susan on December 18th. Her work with the homeless and the OOTC program leaves behind a legacy of compassion, kindness, and commitment to the equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of their place in life.

Through our partnership with the OOTC program, Dixon Hall’s Housing Services Department has been able to engage in meaningful work with the homeless men and women who visit the OOTC sites, and extend our professional expertise in the service of this vulnerable community. We now have the capacity to better understand who is using the program, and can provide deeper support systems and serve clients beyond the traditional six month period into the summer months.

The OOTC program started as a temporary, emergency measure to prevent deaths in the homeless community, and that immediate goal hasn’t changed, but our collaborative efforts with the faith-based groups have evolved to a place where we approach the work with a goal of offering up long-term solutions. As a multi-service agency, we have the unique opportunity to connect OOTC clients with a range of services to develop life skills and support clients on their journey to housing and sustainable supports. From employment skills to supportive housing options, to senior support, to strategic referrals and harm reduction, our continuum of services are crucially important in supporting the homeless population in their transition from emergency services to greater stability.

In the last year, we have successfully housed 57 individuals.  Access to housing allowances is an integral part of our work with OOTC clients in our collaborative efforts to move guests toward sustainable housing. Working with community partners in the health sector to address mental health and addiction issues is another key aspect of our work. Recently, one of our regular OOTC users, who has been with the program for over 10 years was moved to permanent housing – the first time he’s had his own place for many years. We are hopeful that with continued support and guidance from Dixon Hall, he will be happy and successful in his new home.

Though the OOTC program winds down at the end of April, the issues the homeless community faces daily don’t subside with the cold weather. The summer months and extreme heat  pose new challenges to overcome.

How we treat our most vulnerable community members is a reflection of our city’s compassion, and the work we’ve done with the OOTC program and the faith-based community partners over the last 15 years is at critical juncture. With our partners, we will strive to assure that the most vulnerable members of our community receive a continuity of support designed to meet their needs throughout the entire year.