A safe bed, out of the cold
Sher Scott - December 7, 2012
Dalhousie students are making a difference in the community by helping Halifax's Out of the Cold shelter provide safe beds to those in need.
The past few weeks have been chilly and it is only going to get colder over the coming months – something that Dalhousie School of Social Work Professor Jeff Karabanow (pictured left) knows all too well. Dr. Karabanow has been a primary organizer for Out of the Cold, a low-barrier alternative shelter in downtown Halifax, for more than five years now.
Homelessness is a reality in Halifax, just like any other city, and it’s one that Dr. Karabanow says is hidden in many ways.
“We are a small city and homeless people have their own resources and want to stay hidden, but there are gaps in those resources and Out of the Cold is evidence of the community galvanizing to fill those gaps,” he says. It’s what he calls a, “a reactive but nonetheless vital solution in the absence of deeper resources for preventative measures.”
Housed in Saint Matthew’s United Church on Barrington Street, Out of the Cold provides an emergency, last resort for those in need with no other safe space.
The term “alternative shelter” means that Out of the Cold is a non-judgemental, informal space, with a high staff-to-guest ratio. According to Professor Karabanow, the focus is on community building. “We don’t have professionals, we don’t call our guests ‘clients,’ and we’re not a charity. If anything, we’re here to sensitize the public and start to build a more compassionate world.”
The shelter operates on an entirely volunteer basis, and the Dalhousie community plays a huge role in that. About half of the shelter’s volunteers are students, and the large majority are from Dalhousie.
Lindsay Arbuthnot, a Dal student and volunteer, was inspired to get involved by her interaction with members of Halifax’s homeless population while volunteering at St. Andrew’s United Church.
“People who had accessed the shelter expressed to me how important it is to our community,” she says. “There is a lack of affordable housing in Halifax, and the shelter provides a warm place to sleep during the cold winter months.”
As a volunteer, Arbuthnot’s typical shift covers a wide range of duties. “We do everything from setting up cots and preparing meals and snacks to organizing and distributing donations like socks and winter jackets,” she says. With five to six volunteers working each night, “Teamwork and communication are key!”
A high volunteer-to-client ratio is important to the Shelter’s low-barrier, compassionate environment. “It allows us to attend more quickly to the needs of our guests, whether it is food, dry clothing, new shoelaces or just someone to talk to,” says Dr. Karabarow. “If there are more people available, we can be more responsive.”
The Shelter is always eager for volunteers. Out of the Cold provides orientation and facilitates a range of certification courses, such as First Aid/CPR and suicide intervention training.
If you would like to volunteer, or get involved with the shelter you can email Out of the Cold’s volunteer coordinator at VolunteerOTCS@gmail.com, or visit outofthecoldhalifax.org for more information.
A few hours a week can make a big difference – particularly over the winter break while so many students volunteers are away.
“It’s a great and rewarding way to get involved in the community,” says Arbuthnot. “We have such a vital role to play.”