Toronto weather: Outreach worker brings warmth to homeless on frigid night (Toronto Star)

As the city shivered, Lauren Gostick was driving the streets in a van handing out coffee and clothes and helping the homeless to shelter.

Published on Wed, Jan. 08, 2014

By: Tim Alamenciak News reporter

Lauren Gostick stands at the back of a black mini-­van on Peter St., taking coffee orders and passing out warm clothes like scarves and mittens to anyone who approaches.

“You want an extra scarf Teddy?” she asks to a man sitting outside the city shelter in a wheelchair. He says no.


He nods and she passes him a balled-­up pair.

Gostick has just started her outreach shift Tuesday, one of the coldest nights in recent Toronto history, when the temperature with wind chill was expected to drop below -­30C.

“There’s a couple more people out there than I would hope,” says Gostick, a woman with an ever-­ present smile and encyclopedic knowledge of the names of those she helps. Her Tuesday night work, which goes from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., consists mainly of driving through Toronto and offering help to those sleeping on the streets.

The city has been under an extreme cold weather alert since Jan. 6, triggering the opening of additional resources to help people keep warm. Metro Hall was converted into a 24-­hour pet-­friendly warming centre as of 3 p.m. on Monday and 26 additional shelter spaces were added. Service organizations and shelters are also told to ease restrictions and allow clients to wait in the warmth until they can find a

bed elsewhere. The city also dispatches more of its own outreach teams.

During the recent ice storm, Richard Ian Kenyon, a 51-­year-­old homeless man who struggled with addiction, was found dead outside the Loblaws store on Carlton St.

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Gostick works for Ve’ahavta, a Canadian Jewish relief agency that, among other things, focuses on poverty relief. She has travelled the streets for the past three years, doling out coffee, peanut butter and jelly bagels, warm clothes and conversation.

“You see a problem in your city, and you want to fix it,” says Gostick, who went to school for social work. “It’s as simple as that.”

Gostick says she hasn’t seen anything like the cold that struck Toronto on Monday and extended well into the night Tuesday.

“It hasn’t been this cold at least while I’ve been doing this job,” said Gostick. “This is very different than the winters we’ve had in the recent years.”

Toronto weather: Outreach worker brings warmth to homeless on frigid night

She said that Monday night, when the city centre recorded a wind chill of -­27C, went smoothly, but that there was little awareness of the Metro Hall warming centre.

“It sounds like nobody really knew about it so I tried to spread the word as much as I could about that,”
said Gostick. She noted that it seemed busier Tuesday night.

Sometimes people don’t want to go to the shelter, says Gostick. She says many have been homeless for years and feel safer in the streets than in the shelter system. All she can offer is a hot drink and bundles of warm clothes.

“I do what I can,” she said. “What I do give them the option of doing, which most of the older guys will do, is if they’re going to take a coffee I make sure they drink it in the van so they can warm up.”

“All the time, but especially when the weather is this bad, take a couple minutes out of your busy schedule and just ask them if they’re okay,” said Gostick, when asked what people can do to help those sleeping on the streets. “And if they say no, call 311.”

The Peter St. building she is parked in front of is a regular stop and the nerve centre of Toronto’s homeless shelter system. It serves as a referral centre for the roughly 4,000 emergency beds available at Toronto’s shelters, the majority of which are funded by the city and operated by community agencies.

The stop is quick. It has to be. After everyone has a cup of coffee and some warmer clothes, she and her partner will go to Richmond and Bay Sts. where a man is waiting to be taken to the Metro Hall warming centre for a reprieve from the chill.

Read it online here.

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