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United Way Elgin Middlesex
Sleepless In Our City

Sean Dyke, Joe Preston and Karen Vecchio sleep outside to fight poverty on Feb. 15

February 6, 2018 - St. Thomas, ON - Sean Dyke, General Manager, St. Thomas Economic Development Corp. and Chair, United Way Campaign Cabinet; Joe Preston, Owner, Living Alive Granola and Volunteer, United Way Campaign Cabinet; Karen Vecchio, MP Elgin-Middlesex-London and friends are asking residents in Elgin-St. Thomas to share all the warmth they've got to give.

On Feb. 15, these dedicated DoGooders will bundle up and sleep outside in their cars from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. in the Boston Pizza parking lot, 860 Talbot St. to raise money for United Way and fight poverty in Elgin-St. Thomas.

It's going to be uncomfortable, difficult and cold. But for them, it's just one night. For some in Elgin-St. Thomas, sleeping rough, couch-surfing or living in temporary shelter is every night.

"The biggest misconception about homelessness is that it doesn't exist here," says Lindsay Rice, Director of Community Programming, YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin. "In reality, a very diverse population experiences it: the neighbor who lost his job, a teenager fleeing a difficult home life, seniors on a fixed income. It just doesn't look the same as it does in the big city."

Many individuals experiencing homelessness in Elgin-St. Thomas are invisible. They could be living outside ‘in the rough' or sleeping in a car, abandoned building, shed or barn, or couch-surfing with relatives or a friend.

"Homelessness affects everything: personal safety, access to healthy food, jobs, education and mental health," Rice continues. "How do you keep a job if you don't have access to clean laundry and countless other everyday things many of us take for granted?"

Approximately 16% of residents in Elgin-St. Thomas live under the low-income cutoff and 1 in 5 children live in poverty. In addition, almost 40% of renters in Elgin-St. Thomas spend more than 30% of household income on housing costs, and more than 14% spend at least 50%. Some-times, they have to make the choice between a roof over their head or food on the table.

"Facts like these should make us all sleepless," says Sean Dyke, General Manager, St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation and United Way Elgin-St. Thomas Campaign Chair. "When we fight poverty right here at home, we give more people the opportunity to create a better life."

Donations to Sleepless in our City help United Way invest in programs that fight poverty in Elgin-St. Thomas. Donations are invested in immediate basic needs like food security, emergency shelter and transitional housing supports. Longer term, United Way works with community partners to fight the root causes of poverty. Donations to United Way stay 100% local, always.

How you can help:

  • Pledge your support for Sean, Joe, Karen and friends
  • Tell your friends about Sleepless in our City and ask them to donate to United Way and join the fight to end poverty
  • Share the Facebook Event on social media and follow our DoGooders on social media as they post and tweet about their experience
  • Join us on Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Boston Pizza parking lot, 860 Talbot St., St. Thomas. to meet the team and launch Sleepless in our City
  • Become a monthly donor and help United Way invest in programs that tackle poverty and homelessness year-round. Your donation stays 100% local, always.

Poverty and homelessness in Elgin-St. Thomas

Homelessness in St Thomas and Elgin County

  • Locating and obtaining housing in Elgin-St. Thomas is very difficult. The vacancy rate for a bachelor apartment in Elgin-St. Thomas is effectively 0% and for a one bedroom is 4%.
  • In 2017 the Elgin Youth Homeless Protocol served 79 youth who were not permanently or stably housed. 25% of these youth were 16 years old and 62% were between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • "Hidden homeless" are an estimated 80% of those without a place to call home are less visible. Consider the youth who moves from friend to friend and relative to relative while seeking affordable housing or the woman who accepts housing from a man, even if the situation is dangerous, rather than be on the street.
  • Through the 2016/17 winter 283 people accessed the Inn Out of Cold shelter per month with up to 30 people sleeping overnight.

Poverty in St Thomas and Elgin County

  • Approximately 16% of Elgin-St. Thomas residents live under the low-income cutoff and 1 in 5 children live in poverty
  • The number of households receiving social assistance in our community has almost doubled in the last 10 years. (819 households in 2006; 1591 households in 2016)
  • In Elgin-St. Thomas 30% of the population has an annual income of less than $20,000
  • According to 2006 Census data, almost 22% of households in Elgin-St. Thomas are paying more than 30% of their gross monthly income on housing and therefore, living in housing that is not affordable
  • Mirroring trends in other communities, homeowners in Elgin-St. Thomas generally have less affordability problems than renters (17% of homeowners compared to 40% of renters). This trend not only reflects the higher incomes needed to purchase housing, but the reality that some homeowners have already paid off their mortgage.
  • In Elgin-St. Thomas, more than 14% of renter households experience severe housing affordability problems indicated by paying 50% or more of income on housing


  • The Canadian Homeless Research Network defines homelessness as being without stable, permanent, acceptable housing, or in the immediate prospect of acquiring it.
  • Many individuals experiencing homelessness in our community are not seen. Homelessness could be sleeping outside or "in the rough," but it could also be sleeping in a car, an abandoned building, shed or barn, or couch-surfing at a friend's.
  • Major contributing factors to homelessness in Canada are deep poverty, substandard housing and the lingering impact of residential schools on indigenous communities. Indigenous people are dramatically over-represented among homeless populations in Canadian cities. Housing First
  • Housing First is a successful and transformational housing model used in a number of Canadian communities and is supported by United Way Elgin Middlesex.
  • Housing First puts the priority on a rapid and direct move from homelessness to housing, instead of requiring people to graduate through a series of steps before getting into permanent housing.
  • There are four core principles to Housing First:
    • consumer choice and self-determination
    • immediate access to permanent housing with the support necessary to sustain it
    • housing is not conditional on sobriety or program participation
    • social inclusion, self-sufficiency and improved quality of life and health

Last Updated: Tuesday, 06 February 2018 14:15:11 PM EST

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