Local shelters launch winter pilot program to aid Barrie’s homeless

Barrie city councillor seeks options outside the shelter system

Shelter beds have increased by close to 70 per cent in response to needs during the pandemic, according to Wendy Hembruff, the County of Simcoe’s director of community programs and services.

“We recognize that people living in shelters are very vulnerable,” said Hembruff. “It’s important to everyone that options are available for individuals to come in from the cold and get connected with services.”

Ward 6 Barrie city councillor Natalie Harris wants the county to have something established this winter to help Barrie’s homeless who do not access shelters for whatever reason.

She told Barrie 360 that in discussions with some homeless individuals, they have told her they can’t access a shelter, sometimes because they have no place to store their belongings, they don’t feel safe, or they are not allowed to be there because of past behaviour.

During a discussion about the county’s 2022 budget at Barrie City Council this week, Harris raised the issue again and asked Greg Bishop, the county’s general manager of social and community services, if something was in the works.

Bishop told her the county’s focus to date has been maximizing the capacity within the existing system.

Hembruff says what’s new this year is the establishment of a centralized shelter access intake line.

“This winter pilot program includes coordinated shelter supports, placement at the shelters, and it can also serve as a triage access and diversion program.”

This is in collaboration with the Salvation Army, the Elizabeth Fry Society, the Busby Centre and Youth Haven.

Hembruff said there are drop-in winter warming options for youth available at Youth Haven’s Toronto Street location, as well as adult services available at the Busby Centre’s Mulcaster Street location.

Currently, the Busby Centre is open daytime hours Monday to Friday, and Hembruff said there is the intention to increase to 24-hours a day, seven days a week for respite both at Busby’s Mulcaster Street location and at their temporary motel location.

The county oversees social services within Barrie, and this includes funding for Youth Haven, Elizabeth Fry Society, Salvation Army and Busby Centre.

The Busby Centre and Elizabeth Fry Society continue to provide shelter beds at a motel due to the pandemic, while Youth Haven reopened its shelter in October. The Salvation Army has remained in its building throughout COVID-19.

“There is a commitment to increase bed space at that motel to 198 beds,” said Hembruff. “Outreach services have also been enhanced to provide resources and services, and to encourage people to come in from the cold through outreach teams.”

Harris has said she is going to bring a motion to council general committee in the near future to ask staff to investigate the cost of installing lockers downtown that the homeless can use to store their belongings. She says it’s being done in cities like Sudbury and Oshawa.

“This would maybe allow people to use the shelter more because they can store their extra belongings in the locker and then go to the Busby Centre.”

Harris understands shelter rules may exclude somebody with severe mental illness who could be in psychosis, and they are a disruption in the shelter system and cannot be there, or there are other behavioural issues.

“So, they’re on the street. Where do they go? There is nowhere warm to go.”