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In the snow-covered tents, there is no response. Despite concerns about the condition of the homeless individuals inside, the tents cannot be opened without their permission. |Photo by You-ren Hong

In Guelph, Ontario, about 70 kilometers from Tzu Chi's West Toronto Office, a group of homeless individuals has set up tents to live in. Winter brings temperatures as low as -20°C (-4°F), posing immense challenges for their survival. Despite shelters being  available for temporary refuge, entry requirements and transportation issues prevent them from entering. This leaves them no choice but to sleep out in the snow with tents.

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The number of homeless individuals living in snow-covered tents in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, has been steadily increasing in recent years. |Photo by You-ren Hong

Mechanical Engineer Turned Homeless

Matthew, originally from Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada, used to work as a mechanical engineer. He had a house in Ontario and was married with children. However, a few years ago, he had a car accident that left him unable to work as before. This led to him to fall behind on his mortgage payments; eventually, it resulted in his having to sell his house and the end of his marriage. Stories like Matthew's are just one example of the hardships faced by many homeless individuals.

Compassionate Outreach in the Cold

Gregg Young, a certified volunteer from Tzu Chi’s West Toronto Office, also serves as a social worker in the province of Ontario. He ventured out with Tzu Chi volunteers to provide care for homeless individuals living in tents during the coldest times of the year. The scenes they encountered were heart-wrenching. Outside the tents were scattered belongings and clothing. One homeless person attempted to use gas for warmth, accidentally setting the tent on fire. In another instance, they found a tightly closed black tent with no response from inside. However, even though they were concerned that someone inside might have succumbed to the freezing cold, volunteers could not simply open the tent without permission.

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Tzu Chi volunteers put hand warmers, thermal socks, blankets, and toiletries in buckets to give to the homeless individuals. The buckets serve as both moisture-resistant containers and makeshift seats. The homeless individual on the left, who received blankets and hot coffee, was happy for such assistance. |Photo by You-ren Hong

Bring Warmth and Care in Snowy Winter Nights

Matthew, one of the homeless, told Tzu Chi volunteer Szu-chien Fang (方思茜) that, in recent years, the number of people living in tent camps has multiplied several times. Apart from those in the downtown area of Guelph, many homeless people are scattered across other places; some opt to seek shelter in wooded areas. Wondering how anyone can sleep in such freezing conditions, the volunteers do their best to help ease the situation. Along with providing a hot cup of coffee, they hand over buckets filled with blankets, socks, hand warmers, and toiletries. May this gesture bring warmth to help them survive these harsh winter conditions.

Story by Tzu Chi Eastern Canada  
Edited by Ya-Ying Yang | Department of Literature and History