“It was a very scary and very uncomfortable feeling."
Just a handful of days ago, Marc Penner had nowhere to spend the night so he says he hunkered down outside in the cold.
“Nobody wants to go there,” he states. “Nobody wants to be out there and freeze.”
Steinbach Community Outreach Executive Director Irene Kroeker says she found Penner the next day.
“Of course, we were not pleased that that is something somebody has to do these days,” Kroeker remarks. “Fortunately, we were able to place him into Today House.”
Today House is an emergency shelter for homeless people, one that Outreach acquired just a few short months ago. As it is only a temporary residence, Kroeker says she is working to find Penner long-term accommodations. Meanwhile, she stresses, this story is not an isolated event. It is with painful regularity that Kroeker and her coworkers hear stories of people holing up in non-heated sheds or garages in an attempt to keep warm. She adds the recent frigid conditions only highlight the issue.
“We do have a dozen or so homeless people that we know of right now who are couching and whom we are helping so they can stay where they have found a warm place.” She adds those same homeless people often visit the Outreach drop-in centre during the day to stay warm and avoid inconveniencing whoever happens to be lending them their sofa. “We give them food so that they can take suppers back for everyone who is living there and then, of course, they are more welcome.”
As the cold continues to be a formidable opponent, Kroeker says so does the COVID-19 pandemic. The limited lodging space they have at Today House makes it logistically difficult to care for people's needs while simultaneously following the evolving government restrictions. For example, the shelter usually only houses a single person or family at a time but In Penner’s case, there was already one person occupying the space. This posed an ethical dilemma for Kroeker: should she assist the person in front of her who was lacking a basic human need, or should she follow the rules to the letter? To Kroeker, the decision was a no-brainer.
“There are issues like these where we have to decide what orders do we follow and when and how… it is not just an easy road all of the time,” she says.
Penner, for one, is glad Kroeker chose the route she did. “I really appreciate them all,” he says of the staff at Outreach.
Ultimately, Kroeker believes sheltering two guests at Today House does fall within what is permissible as the building does have two separate bedrooms. Still, she says she is ever-aware that helping those in need might not always directly align with the latest public health orders.