Busby Centre opens its doors as an overnight warming centre

Options available to those seeking shelter from the cold

While the John Howard Society of Simcoe Muskoka (JHSSM) leads a search for a downtown warming centre, Barrie’s homeless population looking for a place to keep warm do have options.

The Busby’s Centre’s home at 88 Mulcaster Street opened its doors overnight on Monday to those seeking relief from the cold.

“We had two people come in last night,” said Sara Peddle, Busby Centre executive director. “We had our outreach team do some safety checks through the downtown last night, to the bus terminal and areas that we know people are, and we didn’t find anybody.”

The Busby Centre operated its warming facility last winter and also provides day warming during the week.

“We try to expand what we can. But we are doing overnight from 9 p.m. to 7: 30 a.m.,” said Peddle.

Between the Busby Centre and the Elizabeth Fry Society, there is also a shelter program at a north end hotel that has more than 180 people.

At the hotel, the number of people staying there for whatever period of time does vary. Peddle said some people are there just for the night, others have been there for weeks or months, as there is not a lot of outflow to housing right now. It also depends on whether there is a COVID-19 outbreak, which then requires individuals isolate.

At the Mulcaster Street location, anyone seeking shelter from the cold can stay as long as they want.

“We do have eight spaces right now, and we do have the ability to expand those, but it comes down to staffing,” explained Peddle.

The Busby Centre has an outreach team that is on the streets from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., and there are staff that volunteer to stay out later to do safety sweeps.

“Our outreach team does have a list by name of people that they are supporting,” said Peddle. “That list becomes very fluid because people do come to the shelter and they leave, and that kind of stuff. There is not a stagnant number.”

The Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness enumeration of November 2020 showed 563 people, 82 per cent of them single, were experiencing homelessness  and that 49 per cent, or 276 people, were in Barrie. But how many of them are actually living unhoused with no shelter over their head, Peddle acknowledged it is a tough figure to nail down.

Led by the Busby Centre, and working in collaboration with other agencies, Peddle said there will be another 24-hour homeless enumeration on Jan. 24. to see approximately how many people are out there.

City councillors on Monday passed a motion to split the $40,000 cost to staff an indoor warming centre, when one is found, and that the other half be covered by the County of Simcoe, over the next three months.

Simcoe County Council has not dealt with the funding request.

The City of Barrie opened the downtown transit terminal as a warming centre on Monday night when Environment Canada issued an extreme cold warning alerting the public about wind chill values of minus 30.

Downtown bus terminal will be available as a warming centre during extreme cold warnings this winter
Downtown bus terminal

At Monday’s council meeting, Coun. Keenan Aylwin got a motion passed to raise the temperature to minus 20 for the terminal to be used as a warming centre.

Coun. Natalie Harris has assisted the JHSSM in trying to find a property for a warming centre. One potential location fell through due to fire code issues.

Peddle praised the group that is searching for a property.

“It will be complementary to the work that we’re doing. We all work together on making sure that people are inside.”

Bayside Mission in downtown Barrie

The County of Simcoe is responsible for providing social services in Barrie including the funding of the shelter system, which includes the Busby Centre, Salvation Army, Youth Haven and the Elizabeth Fry Society.

Youth Haven – Barrie

“The shelter system communicates every day,” said Peddle. “They’re giving our outreach team the number of beds that they might have available, so we can make sure that people are getting into those beds. We coordinate that, and it has been working really well to make sure we can get as many people off the street as possible.”

Banner image: Busby Centre – Barrie