Barrie city council approves cash for warming centre

County has been requested to cover half the tab

The City of Barrie will put down $20,000 in funding to staff an overnight warming centre run by the John Howard Society of Simcoe Muskoka (JHSSM).

The motion approved by city council on Monday also asks the County of Simcoe to pony up the same amount of cash. The county funds shelters in Barrie on behalf of the city, such as Youth Haven, the Salvation Army, the Elizabeth Fry Society and the Busby Centre.

Council also agreed to open a warming centre location when the temperature reaches minus 20 Cel. The city has been following Environment Canada’s guidelines for issuing an extreme cold warning in the Barrie area, which is minus 30, either the temperature or wind chill for a period of at least two hours.

The city has been using the downtown transit terminal as an emergency site, and just recently, the JHSSM announced they would be operating a daytime warming centre at Trinity Anglican Church downtown beginning on Jan 21. JHSSM told Barrie 360 an overnight location has also been found, but details cannot yet be disclosed.

An amendment was also added that requests city staff to look into whether other municipal buildings other than the transit terminal could be used in the future as a warming centre.

“I have a hard time thinking what we have besides the library, the fire hall and the city hall rotunda,” said Coun. Barry Ward. “I am not sure if we’ve got any other facilities in the downtown, but I guess we’ll see when we get the report back.

Coun. Natalie Harris, who moved the amendment, said the transit terminal wasn’t very private and was a high-traffic area.

“It’s problematic sometimes because it’s very busy, and these individuals are just looking to be warm, and it’s not very private.”

Even though the County of Simcoe is the social services provider, Coun. Gary Harvey said the city needed to have a backup plan.

“We need to have a backup plan yesterday, not today,” he told council. “This will put us in a much better position for the following season.”

“We need to be better prepared, whether it’s a city facility or another facility in the area where the vast majority of these unhoused people are, because we are not prepared now, unfortunately, and I don’t think we can necessarily always just rely on the county.”

Harris initially suggested in her amendment to the motion that private security guards trained in de-escalation techniques be hired at these warming centres.

But Mayor Jeff Lehman said that was best-suited to organizations in the community who are specifically trained and committed to supporting the unhoused.

“I think this discussion around the use of city buildings is a good one, and it’s a good conversation to have,” he noted. “But my own take, we should recognize that we should be partnering with an agency that has that staff to deliver warming services, whether that occurs in one of our buildings or another building in the downtown.”

The Busby Centre has a day and night warming centre at their home base on Mulcaster Street. As well, the Busby Centre and the Elizabeth Fry Society both offer respite beds at a north end hotel.

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