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Pembroke charity offers assistance to homeless population

It is built upon an initiative that began in February of this year when it opened a Warming Centre within its Victoria Avenue facility to provide the area’s homeless population with a safe, warm indoor space for the remaining winter months.

One of the sad realities is that homelessness is not just a big city problem, but it occurs in every part of the country. 

It is for that reason, 'The Grind Pembroke', a Pembroke-based registered charity is the home of a new program designed to help those individuals throughout the Ottawa Valley most in need. The Grind launched its 'Out of the Coldinitiative for their homeless clients.

It is built upon an initiative that began in February of this year when it opened a Warming Centre within its Victoria Avenue facility to provide the area’s homeless population with a safe, warm indoor space for the remaining winter months.

At any given time in Renfrew County there are about 20-25 homeless/unsheltered individuals, as well as dozens of citizens in Pembroke with special needs, mental health struggles and elderly individuals that need our assistance. 'Out of the Cold' was recently introduced by Adrien Chaput, the current board chair of 'The Grind' and Jerry Novack, past chair.

Deacon Chaput, said Pembroke is often referred to as the 'Heart of the Valley' and the establishment of this new program certainly helped the city, located two hours west of Ottawa on Highway 17, certainly lived up to the name found on the bottom of entrance signs to the city.

“We are here to recognize the 'Out of the Cold' program which was initiated in Southern Ontario to address the need for warm shelter for the homeless community,” he announced. “This program has expanded to many municipalities with a range of services varying throughout the province depending on the need.”

Novack, who recently retired from a long career as a member of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and one of the original founders of the popular coffee shop that caters to a clientele often disenfranchised from mainstream society, stressed the project would not be successful without the assistance of local service agencies.

However, unlike the 'Out of the Cold' programs found in many communities in southern Ontario, the Pembroke program is not a shelter designed for a large population with the intent of sheltering people for extended periods of time. Rather, it is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

“But we’re definitely excited to work with our community partners and agencies to provide further supports to the homeless population,” he remarked.

Both he and Chaput said the logic behind the initiative was quite simple, that those without beds need a safe place to spend the night.

“Some of our clients, they walk all night, just so they can keep warm,” he explained. “That has to be the most difficult thing, trying to function with little or no sleep, or something to eat or drink.”

One commonality the clients of the program share with a small, but growing population in the region is the issue of food insecurity. According to a new survey released by the the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, food is becoming an increasingly costly expense, with prices rising 16.5 per cent since October 2019.

Novack noted food security and shelter are major issues for their clients, so the new program offers a place where they can get warm, feel welcomed and get connected to the partnering agencies to learn what supports exist for them.

“We’re really excited about that, to be able to provide that wrap-around service for our new guests at 'The Grind'.”

He explained 'The Grind' was the headquarters of the client services which handle what they refer to as the “system navigation” that connects clients with various agencies and providers. These include mental health services from Pembroke Regional Hospital on Tuesdays and Fridays, an addiction worker, and a doctor who meets with the homeless clients on Wednesday mornings.

Chaput credited the community volunteers who work tirelessly to help those most in need, especially as the cold winter months have become a stark reality for some of the most vulnerable.

“We are seeing more and more that there is an increase in homelessness in our community,” he said. “We’ve seen it firsthand that many people are living in tents, under bridges, in their vehicles, or in the bush. “The sun is rising and setting earlier, extending the long, lonely cool nights of winter moving forward.”

Novack stressed the program is not a shelter where people have a bed for the evening. It takes place in the coffee house area where clients can get a coffee, a warm meal, dry clothing, if needed and access to a shower. They can spend the night socializing, playing games, etc., to pass the time, and then in the morning they are connected with the agencies on site they require.

Staff and volunteers of 'The Grind' have tried in the past to open a homeless shelter in the city.

A homeless shelter opened at the beginning of 2017 and through to the beginning of August 2018, it served 84 homeless male and female adults in its Emergency Refuge, as well as several homeless youth in partnership with Family and Children’s Services’ Safe Shelter for Youth initiative.

Over the same period, 'The Grind' arranged shelter for 59 homeless adults in nearby motels. With over a year’s experience in operating the Emergency Refuge, it became apparent that community donations plus reimbursements received from partnering agencies were not covering the full costs of operating the facility.

Attempts to secure sustainable funding from senior levels of government were unsuccessful and success with grant applications intermittent. It ceased operations in mid-2018.

'The Grind' launched the program in December of last year with the hiring of a new coordinator for the program. With staff on site, it is hoped those in the community will become aware of the program.

Chaput explained 'The Grind' has an agreement with the local security who staff 'The Grind' from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., adding the program will run from Dec. 1 to March 31, 2023. 

For more information, please contact https://thegrindpembroke.ca/

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