March 25, 2023

Jeff Boyter, a 44-year-old Indigenous man who has lived in the Waterloo region for decades, found himself in a dire situation this week when he was faced with an ultimatum.

Sleep at the new overflow shelter to get on the emergency housing list or sleep on a friend’s couch, and then lose access to the help reserved for those on the list.

Waiting in line for the shelter to open at 9 p.m. on Wednesday night, Boyter said a man grew impatient and erupted in violence, banging and kicking on the door, demanding that the staff members inside “open up.”

When the doors finally opened and the people filed in to St. Marks Lutheran Church located at 825 King St. W., in Kitchener, they took their meager belongings and found an empty mat on the floor. Half the people were trying to sleep, the other half were using the space as a social gathering place, Boyter said.

Next to Boyter, a man asked if he would watch over him and use the naloxone kit in his bag, if he overdosed after his injection of fentanyl.

The overwhelming smell of meth, the fear of being robbed and the exposed vulnerability of every person in there makes it hard to sleep, he said. 

Nonetheless, Boyter is grateful for the warmth and for the place to sleep. 

Early statistics released to Spoke by Elizabeth Clarke, CEO of Women Choosing Change, YW Kitchener-Waterloo, reveal that almost 300 people use shelters in the region most nights.

Those figures don’t include people who are couch surfing, off the system or living in the tent cities.

Recorded numbers of emergency beds for Wed. Nov. 27, 2019 in Waterloo Region

Shelter Beds occupied at 27 November Beds available at 27 November
The Bridges 92 5 to 10
House of Friendship 51 0
YW 59 0
oneROOF 17 3
Argus 2 18
SafeHaven 4 6
St. Marks Overflow 41 19
The Working Centre Drop-In 31 0
Total 297 in use >51 beds available

 Source: Elizabeth Clarke, CEO YW Kitchener-Waterloo.

“We know that there are perhaps 50 people in our region who prefer to tent or sleep rough rather than to use the shelters, and these people – mostly men – will only come in when the weather is extreme,” Clark said in an email to Spoke.

“So, we do expect to see higher numbers at points over the winter when it’s particularly cold or stormy,” she added, “We do have some special ‘extreme weather protocols’ in place for when that happens, and that will be the real test of our system.”

Boyter receives a “street allowance” of approximately $320 a month to try to gain meaningful employment, and find an affordable housing. Eating is not in the budget, so he relies on the soup kitchen and the Indigenous drop-in centre for meals.

In an attempt to get off of the streets and find a safer place to live, Boyter, who used to own his own dry-walling company, applied for a job at Home Depot. He had an interview earlier this week and is waiting to hear back from them.

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