The StopGap overnight drop-in centre launched on January 16 to provide a warm space for people experiencing homelessness in Peterborough. The program ran every night of the week, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., and provided access to washrooms, snacks, staff support, and survival gear.
Over the past four months, an average of twenty-nine guests stayed in the program space for five or more hours each night, while nine more guests waited outside. In total, 229 unique individuals accessed the program from January 16 to May 1. On at least twenty-one nights, more than thirty unique individuals could not access beds in Peterborough’s shelters.
Beyond providing shelter from winter weather, the StopGap program operated as an access point for many people in need of community resources. Staff advocated for guests to gain admittance to shelter and made over 322 referrals to connect guests to programs including health care services, food programs, social services, and more.
The StopGap program also saw harm reduction as core to its mandate and distributed harm reduction supplies, as well as training guests on safe drug use. Emergency services were called sixteen times over the duration of the program, with ten calls made on behalf of guests based on emergent medical needs, and six calls were made as part of an overdose response.
Over the course of its four months of operation other challenges emerged. Six restrictions were given to StopGap guests for disruptive behaviour, verbal harassment, and physical violence with the longest being for two nights. Police were called seven times to support the resolution of conflicts between guests. Nevertheless, most guests reported feeling welcomed and supported by staff who were able to mitigate violence without the use of security guards or bag checks.
Ultimately, the Stopgap program provided a warm space and support during the coldest months of the year for people experiencing homelessness and unable to access shelter due to capacity issues or other barriers. StopGap staff made referrals and connected guests to the resources they needed most. Harm reduction supplies and training was made available at night when guests were at their most vulnerable.
The insights gained by One City Peterborough and the other agencies involved in the Emergency Winter Response program in four short months of operating the StopGap program serves to underscore the urgent need for permanent, sustainable, and holistic housing supports in Peterborough.