Cameron sits in the warm restaurant, staring at their empty coffee cup. They fumble their hands in their pockets and leave a small pile of change next to the cold mug, then head out the door. Cameron pulls their jacket tight and makes the trek down snow-covered Spring Garden Road, looking for a refuge from the winter storm.
Cameron came to Halifax from the west coast because of rising housing costs, hitchhiking the whole way here. They really just want steady work, and to have a family, but with the cost of rent and stagnating wages, all Cameron can do is try and make it to tomorrow.
The Out of the Cold Shelter (OTCS) is part of making it to tomorrow.
The 20-year-old joins the line of others forming outside the shelter door. One by one, everyone shuffles in. Volunteers ask the usual questions for the intake questionnaire and the guests give the usual answers. The person asking the intake questions understands the many reasons why somebody may be homeless: past traumas, lack of affordable housing, difficulty finding employment. Their main focus is that Cameron doesn't freeze. Inside, Cameron picks up a warm cup of coffee and sits on the couch, hearing faint barking in the next room. Nobody—animals included—is left out in the cold at this shelter.
Tonight the shelter offers guests the option to get a haircut from a professional barber.
A volunteer hands Cameron a warm meal and sits to talk with them and others. Like Sara, who isn't homeless, but her home is an icebox. She only had money for rent, not heat. Another guest just comes to talk. After a day of panhandling where no one made eye- contact, he just needs to feel human again.
At 11:30pm, those who were just staying for the drop-in leave, people who could go to other shelters get bus tickets or taxi chits to help get there, and the remaining 15 get into their cots. Tomorrow they will awaken and need to head out, but tonight they have a warm bed to call their own—out of the cold.
Cameron's name isn't real, but their story is, and every year OTCS hopes it won't have to find a place to open its doors to folks like Cameron. Because, while shelters are a compassionate response, they are also only a band-aid to a systemic housing and poverty crisis.
As a low-barrier, volunteer-run harm reduction shelter, OTCS takes guests that cannot access most shelters. Guests may have pets, mental illness, addictions or other reasons why they cannot access these places. But none of them deserve to be outside in the freezing conditions of a Halifax winter.
To volunteer with Out of The Cold Shelter please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have an idea, suggestion, or property OTCS can operate in, please contact email@example.com