The Lighthouse: Ready for the Coldest of Nights

Orillia’s Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter is gearing up for its annual Coldest Night of the Year Fundraiser. Andrew Wagner-Chazalon tells us more...

Orillia residents are spending a few hours outdoors to ensure that other people have a place to live. The Coldest Night of the Year is being held on February 22 to help The Lighthouse in its quest to end chronic homelessness in Orillia Ontario.

It’s more than just housing that’s at stake, says Development Coordinator Lynn Thomas. “We’re helping people get to a place of being treated with dignity.”

The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter began in the early 1990s as a youth drop-in centre. Now it provides emergency housing to men who are experiencing homelessness. The centre also serves hot lunches to men and women every day, as well as an array of other support.

Every night up to 14 men have a safe and secure place to sleep, a hot shower, laundry, and three meals. They are housed in bunkbeds in the second floor of the converted house and can stay for up to 30 nights. By day, an additional 40 to 70 men and women squeeze into the main floor café to enjoy a hot meal.

“We serve 25,000 meals a year out of this kitchen,” says Lynn, as a pair of volunteers prepare meals in the confined space.

 

The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen Finds Permanent Homes

 

Every square inch of the house is used, and many spaces serve multiple functions. A former bedroom upstairs serves as an office for the overnight staff, a private meeting space for health care professionals who come by day, a storage room, and a secure lockup for the belongings of residents… all in a room barely ten feet square. The part-time kitchen manager – there’s not enough funding for a full-time staff member – plans meals at a tiny desk in a corner of a rock-walled cellar, wedged in among chest freezers and boxes of donated food.

In recent years, the support has extended beyond a bed and a meal: the team at The Lighthouse helps people find more permanent housing solutions as well.

 

Volunteer with plate of food and smiling at the Lighthouse Soup Kitchen in Orillia
A warm meal and a warm welcome available for those who need help

 

The shelter has two Housing Support Workers who work with local residents to help them find permanent homes. They work with area landlords and clients, helping to negotiate leases and navigate support programs.

“Through this, 63 people were housed last year,” Lynn says.

The amount of help that flows out of this tiny space is extraordinary, but what’s to come is even more impressive: Building Hope is a $14.7 million campaign to build 30,000 square feet of space to help the vulnerable people of Orillia.

 

A New Lighthouse – Building Hope

 

Construction is underway on the Queen Street facility, which is scheduled to open in spring 2021. It will include 20 supportive housing units that can provide long-term shelter to some of the most vulnerable people in the community, and 40 emergency shelter beds for men, women and youth, including two self-contained family units.

The facility will also have space for a broad range of other services, including addictions and mental health counselling, spiritual care, life skills training, employment support, and much more. A community kitchen and café will provide meals for clients and for the general public, allowing The Lighthouse to feed far more people than the current facility allows.

Community support has been a critical part of building this facility. Donations and government grants have raised $13.1 million of the $14.5 million budget.

 

Community Support is Key

 

“This is going to have an enormous impact on the lives of so many people in our community,” says Raymond Snoei, a financial planner with Manulife Securities in Orillia. He is one of the many business owners who have donated to the project.

Ray sponsors an annual golf tournament and is also taking part in the Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser.

“When people think about things to do in Orillia, they often think about many of our great recreational opportunities – the water sports, or ice fishing on Lake Simcoe, or the historic town centre,” says Ray. “But there are also some incredible community activities that happen, where people come together to support each other. It’s one of the great things about this community.”

To take part in The Coldest Night of the Year, walkers register online and set about collecting pledges. On February 22, they gather at Twin Lakes Secondary School on Birch Street around 4pm, and at 5:15pm set out on a designated route.

Walkers will make their way to Barrie Road, and follow it toward Lake Couchiching. There are routes of 2.5, 5 or 10 kms, allowing walkers of all ages and fitness levels to take part. After the walk, a warm, light meal is served to all walkers and volunteers.

Last year, an incredible 600 people took part in The Coldest Night of the Year walk in Orillia, raising over $130,000 for The Lighthouse.

To learn more, visit The Lighthouse’s website at http://orillialighthouse.ca.

 

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Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is the managing editor and CEO of Dockside Publishing, and writes about the luxuries to be found in Muskoka and throughout Central Ontario