Downtown Barrie is getting a warming centre for the city’s homeless population

Warming centre is to open Dec. 15

A partnership between the John Howard Society (JHS) of Simcoe Muskoka and the Gilbert Centre has led to the establishment of a warming centre to allow the City of Barrie’s homeless population to come out of the cold.

JHS executive director Suzanna McCarthy says they are looking at two properties that are centrally located. McCarthy says they are in the process of having health and fire inspections, and once those reports are back, they will have a better sense of whether to go with Option A or Option B.

McCarthy won’t yet disclose the properties but says a donor approached Barrie Police and asked if they would be able to contribute a space because of what they were seeing in the community.

Depending on what site is chosen, McCarthy says they have room for between 15 and 20 individuals.

Barrie operated a warming centre in the bus terminal last winter but it was not repeated this season because of health and security concerns.

For now, the warming centre will operate between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., which still leaves the homeless with no access during the cold overnight period. The plan is to operate overnights in extreme weather.

“11 p.m. to 6 a.m. is our most critical time for folks who need to stay safe and warm,” says McCarthy. “But it really is the issue of volunteers coming forward and having the capacity to staff those hours.”

In discussions with former volunteers with the Out of the Cold program, McCarthy says they told her overnights are always the hardest to staff.

McCarthy says based on figures from the Busby Centre, there are approximately 78 people each night sleeping on the street in Barrie.

McCarthy says the shelter will be open from Dec. 15, 2021 to Mar. 15, 2022,

The centre will offer seating, washrooms, warm drinks, and provide harm reduction supplies.

Anyone who wishes to volunteer at the warming centre will participate in an orientation session and receive naloxone training. All volunteers will be required to use proper PPE.

Full protocols continue to be developed and are awaiting approval by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

The lack of a warming centre in Barrie was raised during the city’s draft 2022 budget deliberations by Ward 6 city councillor Natalie Harris.

General committee approved a recommendation calling on the County of Simcoe to work with the JHS and the Gilbert Centre to help establish a warming centre.

The County provides funding to several Barrie shelters including the Busby Centre, Youth Haven, Salvation Army and the Elizabeth Fry Society.