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Camp Samac shelter program comes to an end

Durham College provided all the meals for the residents staying at Camp Samac through the IOTC program.

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

The temporary shelter program at Camp Samac is coming to an end, but the success of the program will leave a lasting impact on those who were supported through this initiative.

The In/Out of the Crisis (IOTC) program at Camp Samac, which began on May 1 as a way to help vulnerable residents physically distance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, came to an end on Sept. 14.

The program welcomed 109 residents to Camp Samac, including Michael Woolner, who says he will be forever grateful for the IOTC program.

Before arriving at Camp Samac, Woolner says he was depressed and felt like there was no hope, when staff at Lakeridge Health Oshawa referred him to the program.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’m at the bottom so there’s only one place to go – right to the top,’” he says.

Woolner has been at Camp Samac for five weeks and says his experience has been nothing but wonderful since the day he arrived.

“I have had a wonderful time here. I truly have, and I really cannot say enough about these two ministries,” says Woolner. “They went above and beyond. They took it upon themselves, day after day, to care for these people who are really in need and I think it’s just a wonderful thing that they have done.”

Woolner says he will be heading to First Light Foundation of Hope in Oshawa for about two weeks before moving into a shared accommodation environment on Oct. 1.

“I’ve had such a fun time here. It comes from the heart, truly, and I’m going to miss it,” he says.

Another resident, who likes to be referred to as Jax, has been at Camp Samac since mid-July and says the program came at just the right time.

“I came crawling in. I had lost everything. I lost my family, I lost my kids, I lost my parents… when I say everything, I mean everything. I came in with the clothes on my back,” he says.

He says he came into the program after an overdose the day before and has been nothing but loved since he arrived.

“It’s just been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. I found Jesus, I found a family here, and new friends for life,” he says, noting he even found some new roommates.

He and two other residents who were also staying at Camp Samac moved out on Sept. 10 into a four-bedroom house in Oshawa. He adds he will also be going for a year for treatment.

“It’s amazing this [program] was available,” says Jax. “Without it I don’t know where I’d be. It came at the right time. I stumbled upon it, but without it I would probably be dead, so it means the world to me.”

In total, 109 clients were served through the IOTC program, which was co-led on-site by First Light Foundation of Hope and Christian Faith Outreach Centre.

Clients who stayed at Camp Samac had access to supports and services 24/7, including on-site mental health supports, virtual health supports, addiction and housing outreach supports, as well as access to laundry services. Residents also had access to on-site income supports, including Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program applications to increase their income. Meals were provided by Durham College.

“During a state of emergency, it is more important than ever not to let anyone fall through the cracks, and ensure all residents have access to shelter,” says Durham Region Commissioner of Social Services Stella Danos-Papaconstantinou. “I am extremely proud of the success we saw through the IOTC program at Camp Samac.”

With the program closing, all current clients have been connected to housing and are in varying stages of moving into their new accommodations, including Salvation Army’s Housing Program, Durham Mental Health Services Housing Program, and independent accommodations.

“As a community, we were able to come together quickly, removed barriers and self-interest to provide safe, supportive shelter for our vulnerable residents,” says Rob Adams, CEO of Durham Mental Health Services (DMHS). “I am so proud that Durham Mental Health Services was a major partner with our other providers in this creative and high successful project.”

Adams says DMHS workers were successful in transitioning seven clients to permanent supported housing. A total of 76 clients were assisted with Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program through on-site services.

The IOTC program is part of Durham Region’s housing plan, At Home In Durham, which aims to end homelessness by 2024.

“IOTC has been able to offer a safe space to individuals who have been living unsheltered, giving them an opportunity to experience what sheltered community living, three consistent meals, daily routines, ready access to health care and 24/7 wraparound support in an abstinence-based environment can offer,” says Maria Walters, IOTC Program Director at Christian Faith Outreach Centre. “For many, it has been a new lease on life and provided hope. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity, see individuals gather a new lease on life and strengthen community supports.”