Community meals are back on the table in Newmarket, thanks to a newly formed group and a $7,330 Local Love grant from United Way Greater Toronto.
Beginning today, June 1 and running to July 23, a partnership between Concerned Citizens for the Homeless in Newmarket and seasonal homeless shelter, Inn from the Cold, will offer free, hot take-out meals from the Penrose Street facility on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 5 p.m.
Newmarket’s volunteer-driven community meals held seven days a week at various church halls moved to take-out only mid-March as Ontario declared a state of emergency and public health measures were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Not long after, concerns about physical distancing while preparing and serving food among mostly senior-aged volunteers forced the shuttering of nearly all community meals in town.
Now-retired Rev. Ross Carson, of Trinity on Main, who is chairperson of the advocacy group, said he was moved to start the group during the global pandemic to advocate for and provide support for Newmarket’s most vulnerable citizens.
The multi-faith group is made up of about 15 people so far, including members of Trinity United Church and St. John Chrysostom Roman Catholic Church, with representatives from agencies including Inn from the Cold, others with lived experience of homelessness.
Since late April, Concerned Citizens have been meeting weekly online Tuesday mornings and, in mid-May, applied to the United Way’s emergency Local Love Fund, established with federal funds to help vulnerables communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On May 21, we were awarded a grant of $7,330 to provide a hot meal service three nights a week. Our group was the sponsoring agency but, very kindly, Inn from the Cold is the facility doing the cooking and food distribution and trusteeing the money,” Carson said.
The group passed three recommendations to support Newmarket’s homeless and at-risk community during COVID-19 on April 21 that was shared with Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, York Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s community and health services commissioner, Katherine Chislett, Health Minister and Newmarket-Aurora MPP Christine Elliott, and MP Tony Van Bynen.
The key recommendation to governments included that it house the homeless in hotels or other suitable accommodations, and employ staff from Inn from the Cold or other organizations to manage supportive services, including medical expertise as long as the threat from COVID-19 persists.
Members of Concerns Citizens tasked themselves with the remaining two objectives, including applying for or supporting other organizations to apply for emergency funds during the public health crisis so that not-for-profits and faith-based groups can receive funding to deliver increased and supportive housing, and continue to champion communication between the homeless and local decision makers.
The Newmarket group said it was thrilled to learn that the Kingbridge Conference Centre and Hotel in King Township would temporarily house up to 50 people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus crisis until Aug. 31, in partnership with the Regional Municipality of York and run by the Salvation Army and York Housing and Support Services, Carson said.
“Reaction at our meeting included both gratitude and the inquiry how this “one person, one room, one bed” approach of providing social isolation for health could ever be reversed,” Carson’s group wrote to the project’s key officials on May 26. “And, while our second objective to deliver increased affordable and/or supportive housing remains our ongoing challenge, your mission to provide the conditions to solve the long-term housing needs of vulnerable residents in York Region illustrates justice and good government.”
Inn from the Cold is at 510 Penrose St., in Newmarket. For more information, visit here.