When Katerina McGowan, 42, found herself unexpectedly without a home in November 2019, she wasn’t sure where her life would go. Like many others in Ontario who have experienced homelessness before and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, life threw a set of challenging curveballs her way. For Katerina and nearly 50 others, the Ajax Hub, an initiative that VHA Home HealthCare is leading in collaboration with the Town of Ajax and Region of Durham, was a necessary support to help her through these difficult times.
“You can just feel the support and desire to help as soon as you walk into the Hub,” says Katerina, who’s journey led her to the hub after difficultly finding space in local shelters due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
The Ajax Hub is based out of the Ajax Community Centre. The services provided on site include shower and washroom facilities, food, clothing, counselling, on-site housing help and connection to other social support services.
“We’ve been a key point of contact for homeless individuals seeking shelter and support,” says Nicole Kichko, VHA’s Project Facilitator for Durham Hoarding Support Services. When the Hub launched, Nicole and her team quickly switched gears to start managing it.
“I’ve always worked with people who are at risk of homelessness due to mental health challenges, hoarding or clutter, but working at the Hub has been even more humbling,” says Nicole.
“It’s amazing to be able to help people, put a smile on their face and hear their stories.”
Katerina’s story demonstrates the devastating reality of homelessness. Less than a year ago, she had a successful career, owned a house in downtown Whitby and a cottage with her husband. After a painful divorce and extended time in hospital to heal from a medical emergency, she was left with just enough to get through the cold winter months living in motels.
The Hub launched this April in an effort to support people like Katerina and vulnerable communities throughout the pandemic. The team is hopeful it could become a permanent support to help unsheltered residents in the Durham Region. So far, it’s been able to help close to 50 individuals who have visited more than 150 times.
“In these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to reassess how we care for one another, says Shaun Collier, Mayor of Ajax.
“This Hub is a first for the Town of Ajax. We are proud to partner with the Region and service providers to support our most vulnerable, allowing streamlined and accessible processes for the important services that they need, as we walk through this crisis together as a community,” he says.
As for Katerina, she says she’s tried to spread the word about the Ajax Hub to others in the region who are experiencing homelessness.
“I tell them that access to clean clothes and a warm shower makes a world of a difference. Your mindset can change drastically. Visiting the Hub helps me see the light at the end of the tunnel.”