'It's life or death,' Shelters scramble to help those sleeping on the streets
ALLISTON, ONT. -- The snowstorm that blanketed Simcoe Muskoka caused a spike in demand for emergency shelter for those who have no place to call home.
Lynn Thomas, executive director with The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter in Orillia, said the rising need is no surprise.
"We know that there's going to be an increase, whether it's extreme heat or cold," said Thomas.
With COVID-19 creating certain restrictions, space is limited inside community shelters, making it more challenging to meet demand.
Thomas said it's a heartbreaking situation, but it could mean spending the night outdoors in the frigid cold for some individuals.
"Unfortunately, last resort is to be able to give them something warm for the night," Thomas said.
Jenifer Pergentile dares anyone who doesn't understand the dire need to try sleeping outside themselves. "Sleep for a couple of hours and see how it is, how critical it is. It's life or death, is really what it boils down to," she said.
Pergentile, the executive director at Alliston Out of the Cold, said that while the Orillia shelter has 42 beds, Alliston only has eight available because of the COVID restrictions.
"This time, with two weeks into operation, we are already operating at over 50 per cent capacity," she said.
With limited space, Pergentile said there has been an increase of people on the street. And now the shelter is faced with tough questions, and the answers may be hard to stomach as Pergentile reiterates how desperate the situation is.
"The reality is that shelters across Simcoe County are operating near capacity or if not full every night, and what do we do then, when there isn't somewhere to send somebody? Really life and death," she finished.
Staff with Out of the Cold fear having to turn people away, especially during the bitter cold months, and plan to do whatever possible to find warm alternatives for those in need.