A woman sleeps in plain sight on the worn out sofa of a room originally intended to be a shared space; another makes a personal phone call on the communal phone in the hallway as people shuffle around her.

Nobody has felt the housing crisis quite as suddenly and severely as Niagara’s emergency shelters.

“People we see are the most marginalized, so they’re the most vulnerable to any kind of community shift,” said Elisabeth Zimmerman. “They’re the ones that are going to feel it the fastest and probably the hardest.”

The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would seek to put in place more stringent work requirements for adults who rely on food stamps, even as the president signed a sweeping farm bill in which lawmakers had rejected stricter rules.

By moving to limit the ability of states to issue waivers to people who say they cannot make ends meet under the requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Agriculture Department found another route to create restrictions, bypassing Congress and drawing immediate criticism that the proposed rule was sure to harm Americans below the poverty line.

Alan, 52, is homeless and a self-described addict. He refuses to use an emergency shelter and sleeps rough, even in winter.

CBC met Alan on Rideau Street, where he panhandles, on a day in early December when it was –12 C, –20 with the windchill.

He cuddled a small dog as he sat cross-legged on the pavement, a blanket draped over his knees. In front of him was a scrap of cardboard, the words “Homeless — Anything would be helpful” scrawled on it.

It’s a chain reaction that keeps growing with only one goal in mind — to help Fredericton’s homeless stay out of the cold.

St. Paul’s United Church has recently opened its sanctuary to offer a warm place for the night, to help alleviate some of the overflow at the former bishop’s house on Brunswick Street. The building, which was donated by the Anglican Diocese of Fredericton, serves as a new out-of the-cold shelter for homeless people living in the city.

“I preach about it every Sunday that I’m up there, that we’re supposed to reach out and give of ourselves,” said Rev. Richard Bowley, who pastors at the downtown church.

More homeless families are set to join the hundreds already living in hotels and motels across Ottawa as demand for appropriate shelter space continues to surge.

Between 2014 and 2017, the number of chronically homeless families seeking shelter in Ottawa leapt by 143 per cent. In the past year alone, the city has signed agreements with six more hotels and motels to house homeless families — traditionally a last resort.

But with the recent closure of one of the city’s two dedicated family shelters, the need for shelter space has far outstripped the supply. In 2016, there might have been 50 homeless families put up in hotels and motels on any given night. Now there are closer to 230.

More teenagers and young adults than ever before are showing up at Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold looking for food and help over the holiday, says the food bank CEO.

“I can’t speak to the reasons they are here, but they are mostly arriving alone,” said Betty-Lou Souter, who says there are already 284 more young people arriving at the food bank than last year.

Souter said the spike in young people coming to the food bank is the largest change in a significant demographic shift in the kinds of people needing help over the holiday season.

It’s been happening to more and more area seniors.

“They’ve been (living) in a location for a long time, and then they have to move because of the stairs, other medical reasons, etc.,” said Joy Quail, community development coordinator with the Salvation Army Dunnville Community and Family Services.

If they end up moving to a place with higher housing costs than what they were paying before, “that fixed income isn’t going to go far enough.”