Barrie city councillor suggests lockers downtown so the homeless can store their belongings

Busby Centre says several false statements have been made about the organization

A Barrie city councillor says she was not trying to put a dark shadow on anything the Busby Centre is doing.

Natalie Harris, who represents Ward 6, says she is concerned Barrie does not have any other warming shelters or centres that are being provided to the city’s homeless population this winter. She says the bus terminal was available last year, but it is not an option this time around.

Harris referenced the Busby Centre at general committee on Monday and suggested some individuals are turned away.

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.

“I have raised this issue a couple of times and I have asked staff what else we are doing if there is nothing else to keep our homeless warm. The answer I just keep getting is that Busby is on it.”

Harris says she agrees that Busby is on it, and adds they are working really hard.

“Everything they do is amazing and so important, but there are factors that affect many homeless that make it so they can’t go to the shelter.”

Harris says 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 there are rules for everyone’s safety at Busby, though she feels some of those rules exclude somebody with severe mental illness who could be in psychosis, and they are a disruption in the shelter system and cannot be there.

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

Asked if she had reached out to Busby Centre executive director Sara Peddle, Harris admitted she had not but was hoping to have a discussion with her.

But Harris says she is telling the truth.

“I have spoken to many people, some who want to remain anonymous – employees, and former employees.”

The Busby Centre issued a statement Wednesday night in response to public comments about their operations.

“Over the past 48 hours, several false statements have been made about our organization in various public settings,” according to Busby. “As a not-for-profit that relies on donations, we are deeply concerned that this misinformation will adversely impact our reputation, staff, participants, and our long-term financial sustainability.”

Busby explained the organization provides low barrier, housing-focused shelter, and outreach supports to individuals and families experiencing, and at risk of, homelessness in Barrie and Collingwood (Simcoe County).

“We believe that the shelter may be part of their journey, however, we strive that housing should always remain the ultimate destination. There are minimal expectations to be followed while in the shelter program for the safety of all participants in the program, staff, and volunteers,” the statement said. “People may be asked to leave the program for a temporary period, which is always a last choice when confronted with a complex behaviour situation. Nonetheless, there are instances where a temporary service restriction is necessary for the safety of the individual, others within the building, or the facility itself, and are based on severity.”

Busby said they refer to it as a service restriction list versus a ban list as the person who is temporarily leaving continues to be supported for the 3-30 days through its Outreach Team.

“The outreach team works with the person to continue to find housing and/or seek shelter in another program or provide supplies and regular safety checks for those who remain unsheltered. This service restrictions list is reviewed weekly and rarely has more than 3-5 people on it at a time.”

“We would like to encourage any members of City Council to engage us when they would like to receive better clarity on the incredible work our organization is doing in the community to support all individuals, regardless of their mental health, addiction, or housing status. We also encourage the community to continue to advocate to all levels of government for a significant and immediate increase in viable and supportive housing for low-income individuals and families because Everybody Is Somebody,” the statement said.

The County of Simcoe is responsible for social housing services in the region, which includes Barrie and Orillia. Shelter services are also provided by Youth Haven, Elizabeth Fry Society and the Salvation Army within Barrie.

Banner image: Busby Centre/Barrie 360