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Published June 21, 2023

Busby Centre agrees to move outreach program; city backs off new bylaws impacting homeless

"The proposed by-law is not needed to proceed at this time"

Hours before city council was to approve two bills on Wednesday night impacting how and where the homeless could receive food and other supplies in Barrie, the city changed its tune.

Instead, after the Busby Centre said it would stop handing out food and supplies along the waterfront and move its outreach program to another location, Bills 067 and 068 will be referred back to staff.

Related: Wide-range plan adopted by city council to address chronic homelessness in Barrie

“After years of requesting cooperation from the Busby Centre to stop handing out food and camping supplies along our waterfront, today the city is very pleased to have received a letter from the Busby Centre committing to stopping this practice,” said Mayor Alex Nuttall. “This is a positive step forward for council and as such the proposed bylaw is not needed to proceed at this time. I would like to thank the Busby Centre for their partnership.”

City staff will be asked to find ways to modernize outdated language within the existing bylaws which prevented individuals from handing out food and supplies.

It is something Nuttall emphasized at a news conference ahead of the city council meeting.

"The reality is that there was a bylaw that existed in the City of Barrie that actually stopped individuals, or at least in writing, stopped individuals from helping other individuals in public spaces. That was not something this council has been a part of or voted on," the mayor explained. "It's an archaic bylaw that was already in our books. It's a good lesson that we should always be looking through our bylaws to make sure that everything is kept up to date."

The city had indicated what was going to change had the bylaws been amended was to have prevented charitable organizations from distributing food and supplies on city property.

Nuttall says the concern about the Busby distributing food and other items at the waterfront has been longstanding.

"There was a focus on our waterfront of social service programming that was creating an uneasy situation about 150 metres from one of our splash pads, and it's been happening for a number of years. The requests have been constant from city councils over the years to end those programs at that location but continue the programs as a whole in other locations."

The mayor again repeated that the goal of the two bills was to deal with that specific issue.

"The same place where families are going to drop their kids off at the splash pad and the same place where we spend $600,000 a year with Tourism Barrie to attract people to our waterfront unfortunately was being used as the same place for social service programming."

The proposed amendments brought howls of outcry not just from advocates locally, but from the federal housing advocate who fired off a letter to the city and copied Premier Doug Ford saying the changes would create new barriers for vulnerable homeless people.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness launched a campaign on Tuesday urging people to send letters to Barrie council. As of Wednesday afternoon, over 22,000 letters had been submitted through their form, the group said. 

"This bylaw is a clear-cut violation of basic human rights and a shocking criminalization of people experiencing homelessness," Tim Richter, the organization's CEO, wrote in a statement. 

Prior to the mayor's news conference, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside city hall to denounce the proposed bill amendments. The protestors ranged from those experiencing homelessness, church leaders, social service workers, educators and others.

Photo/Barrie 360

"The Busby Centre offered to move our one daily service stop at the Spirit Catcher (Lakeshore) to another downtown city parking lot and we are committed to doing so by Monday of next week," The Busby Centre said on Facebook Monday evening. "Besides this relocation of our one daily Spirit Catcher stop, we will continue all of our services in the community, as the demand for services has increased significantly for a variety of reasons, including the current housing crisis. We are encouraged that the City of Barrie will be referring Bills 067 & 068 back to City staff to collaborate with the community. We are thankful for all the local, Provincial and National advocates, and the people with lived, and living the, experience of homelessness, for raising their voices collectively on this important issue."

The proposed amendment in Bill 67 would have banned the distribution of food, clothing, tents, tarps and other items used as shelter or to assist with sleeping or protection from the elements to members of the public from any public park unless authorized to do so by the city.

The language in Bill 68 was similar but referenced city property.

With the Busby Centre agreeing to stop food distribution along the waterfront, Nuttall said it makes the amendments the city was looking for redundant.

"It allows us to move forward in the spirit of partnership with the Busby to help them find the right services and the right locations in the City of Barrie."

The bills were part of a more extensive motion passed unanimously by council last month that the mayor touched on at the news conference.

The city is going to spend $1.65 million over the next two years on several initiatives.

"We're going to be funding a heating and cooling centre," said the mayor. "There isn't one that has consistently existed here in the City of Barrie."

Nuttall said the city has also been working with two local agencies on a family reunification program to help individuals who have support structures outside of Barrie and do not live in the community to get back to those structures if they choose to do so.

He added the city is also going to step up and support a lunch program that was ended by the Salvation Army.

The mayor said there will be a public meeting to review changes the city has implemented and that is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

"I think it's really important that people understand that the City of Barrie is a place that always takes care of its own."

Banner image: Photo/Barrie 360

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