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A second winter Out of the Cold

By Lauren NaishStaff Contributor

As the winter months approach and the temperature drops below freezing, the community members, volunteers and organizers of Out of the Cold emergency shelter are gearing up for another season.
On Nov. 12, more than 40 people attended an orientation session at the shelter’s new location, St. Matthew’s Church. As they sat on metal chairs in a gymnasium attached to the church, members of the Out of the Cold organizing committee discussed the roles, expectation and goals of those who would be involved in the shelter.
“We have a very basic mandate that is just to provide sanctuary to those who just don’t fit anywhere else,” Jeff Karabanow said after the presentation.
Karabanow is a professor of social work and international development studies at Dalhousie. His interest and expertise in homelessness drew him to join other concerned members of the community to create the emergency shelter last winter.
The group got together after the long time emergency shelter for Halifax, Pendleton Place, was shut down. The government cut funds to Pendleton Place because they felt existing shelters could serve the needs of people better, if the money went to them instead.
Carol Charlebois, executive director of Metro Non-Profit Housing Association, did not believe this would be the case. She and the Metro Non-Profit Housing Association took on the cause and became the main organization for the Out of the Cold shelter.
When shelter opened last year in March, it was run out of the Fort Massey United Church on Tobin Street. Even though the season was short, she says it was enough to show that this was an important resource.
“Just over the two months, and there was no fanfare. Very few people knew we existed, we served 64 different individuals,” Charlebois says.
Both Charlebois and Karabanow are quick to point out that providing shelters isn’t the solution to the bigger issue.
“It’s our philosophy that people deserve a place to call their own, so we are involved in housing,” says Charlebois. “We felt we had to step in, in this emergency, but we would rather not be running shelters.”
Karabanow agrees, and believes the group still needs to push the government to see the importance of safe housing. He is confident in the city’s need for the shelter, but feels it isn’t the solution.
“It’s around because we see there is a gap in the system,” Karabanow says.  “Our fear is that since we, as a community, have kind of taken up the cause, it lets governments off the hook.”
“None of us are in the shelter business. We don’t believe that is the answer, but while we advocate for support in safe housing we also need to be providing something immediate.”
This year the immediate service provided will come in the form of 15 beds in the church on Barrington Street and they hope hot meals provided by the volunteers. The shelter will be open from Nov. 22 to the end of April.
Volunteers do all the work. They sign up to staff overnight or evening shifts, or to do clean-up duties, or they donate supplies.
Shannon Aulenback volunteered last year and came back this winter as a member of the organizing committee.
Before his stint last year Aulenback had no idea what the homeless situation was like in Halifax.
“This isn’t a big city and there are a lot of people that don’t have a safe housing situation and I really had absolutely no idea about that,” he said, after this year’s orientation meeting.
Working at Out of the Cold also opened his eyes to the network of support out there for those who are on the street.
“There is a huge network of organizations around, whether it be government run and that sort of thing, whether it be non-profit like Metro Non-Profit Housing, or church organizations,” says Aulenback.
To Aulenback, the shelter also serves to direct people through this network of support.
“It helps, it definitely helps. I mean the answer isn’t shelters for people who are homeless,” he says. “The answer is finding a way to find stable housing for people.”
“If nothing else, we try to refer people, we try to find out where a person is, what their needs are, where we can best try and refer them to get them into a stable situation.”
As the volunteers leave the meeting Thursday night, a message written on black wooden panels is left behind in the belly of St. Matthews Church. In white letters, it reads: “An open door … welcoming people regardless of background and social situation who are interested in joining our journey of growth and life.”

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