The week before Christmas at A Place Called Home

By Roderick Benns

Christmas at A Place Called Home
A Place Called Home staff members, Christina Alden (left) and Jennifer Lopinski (right).

As families settle into holiday mode its worth reflecting on the fact that not everyone has a place to live – even in a small town like Lindsay.

Just four days before Christmas, there are 17 people in town – three of them children under 12 – who are homeless. Fortunately, they’ve got A Place Called Home to get them through what is hopefully a temporary situation.

Dave Tilley, operations manager at the shelter, says this time of year is “always unpredictable.”

Some years, on Christmas Day, he says there might be less then a dozen people staying there while other times they are “bursting at the seams.”

“The one constant is that people who are usually residing in shelter by Dec. 20 are with us until the New Year, as apartments are more difficult to find over the Christmas holiday,” he says.

Outside of A Place Called Home a few days before Christmas.

With 17 of the shelter’s 19 beds filled already there is at least one more person expected to arrive by Christmas, Tilley says.

Nicole Bryant, manager of hostel and outreach services at A Place Called Home, says people are often surprised to know that being stuck in a homeless shelter during Christmas is often “harder on the parents than it is on the children.”

“Many children don’t understand the concept of a shelter and don’t know their situation. We strive to support parents in the thinking that if they are okay, then their children will be okay,” says Bryant.

Bryant says children are often engaged in plenty of activities at the shelter over the holidays, with plenty of treats around to munch on.

“Staff support parents to make sure that they have what they need to provide a good Christmas for their child while they are here,” she says.

That could look like gift cards to shop, wrapping paper to wrap, donations for stocking stuffers, or whatever the parents require the shelter tries to provide.

“We know it’s hard on parents and we support them the best that we can.”

At this point, Bryant says she is not aware of anyone who is on the streets or sleeping outside.

A Place Called Home reaches out as best as we can to anyone who doesn’t want to come into the shelter,” she says.

Instead, they might offer showers, meals, the use of a phone and even referrals if people are not wanting or willing to come into the shelter.

“Thankfully, Lindsay does not see a lot of the types of homelessness seen in larger urban settings where people are out on the street and needing to get out of the elements,” Bryant says.

A Gift Under the Tree

Every Christmas at A Place Called Home is different than the previous one, given there is a different group of people there each year.

“It’s generally a happy and upbeat vibe, but there can be some sad undertones, as with anyone at this time of year, who is missing a loved one or reflecting on current life situations,” Bryant says.

Each resident and outreach client at the shelter receives a gift under the tree. Often people tell staff that it’s been years since they’ve had a gift so they are very appreciative, she says, and notes that Christmas Day is typically filled with movies, board games and cheer – similar to one’s personal home.

Tilley says a common element among many who are homeless in the community “is the lack of social support” that family and friends can provide.

“Every Christmas we prepare a huge meal…and provide them with the knowledge that there is someone in this community who cares about their well being and is watching out for them,” says Tilley.

“As tragic as it is to have young children at a homeless shelter on Christmas day, we ensure that Santa pays us a visit and that everyone is looked after,” he adds.

Tilley says the residents of Kawartha Lakes are always extremely generous to those in need.

“This is proven time and time again by the outpouring of donations to our clients around the holidays.”

There are frequent calls from community members looking to assist struggling families, he says, and A Placed Called Home staff do their best in assisting with this connection.

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