As winter came roaring into Toronto over the past few weeks, many Torontonians -- close to 228,000 to be more exact -- were left in the dark and without power for up to a week as a result of the freezing rain that blanketed the city. In total, the damage and cleanup is estimated to cost the city $106 million. It has been a punishing start to what could be a very long, bitter winter.
For me and my two children, it meant a few days under some blankets by the fireplace, keeping each other company and in good spirits as we waited for the lights to flicker on and the hum of the furnace to return. Despite our cold home we were able to play games together, read together and laugh together.
In the back of my mind I was worried for my family during this time, but the police had advised everyone to stay indoors, which is what we were doing. And worst case scenario, the city had begun to set up warming stations for families whose homes were too cold or unsafe to remain in.
We were cold and a little nervous, but we knew before long things would return to normal and we could go on enjoying the holidays; and Christmas Eve our power returned.
The following morning on Christmas Day, I took my kids to a local homeless shelter to help serve lunch to the less fortunate, and found myself surrounded by the people most affected by the ice storm; the city's homeless.
When the weather becomes so dangerous that police advise you to stay indoors, where do they go?
When people are left without power the city opens emergency warming stations, but yet there are homeless on the streets every night with nothing to keep them warm.
Of course there are shelters that do incredible work to help the homeless, but there is often limited space and a variety of other reasons why some aren't allowed access. Too often there are those who have no choice but to stay on the streets, even in extremely dangerous conditions such as last Monday where the wind chill brought the temperature to a bitter -41 C. It's the homeless who are forced to remain on the streets that need the most help, yet sadly, they are often the most invisible.
On Saturday, January 18th my Bargains Group team and I will be taking part in Project Winter Survival where, along with over 100 volunteers, we will be packing 3,000 Winter Survival Kits for over 175 front-line social service agencies. These kits, which containing essential winter items, will help the homeless survive the already extremely harsh winter months.
For those of you in Toronto who recently suffered through the cold because of the power outage, I ask you to watch this video and really imagine what it would be like if you had nowhere to go.