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Emergency motel model for homeless gets two-week extension

More than 100 individuals will be without shelter if an alternate solution is not available, according to service providers

Finding shelter for more than 100 individuals experiencing homelessness in Barrie has gone into overtime as the emergency motel shelter model due to end on June 30 has been extended by two weeks.

The program began in March 2020 and was a direct response to the needs of homeless individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic as shelters reduced their capacity or closed due to health and safety requirements.

The motel model is currently operating at the Travelodge on Bayfield Street and is used by The Busby Centre (TBC) and Elizabeth Fry Society (EFS) of Simcoe Muskoka.

“At this time, several alternate sites are under review and consideration however a solution to meet the current need and requirements of an alternate location has to be confirmed,” the agencies said in a news release on Friday afternoon. “As the province continues to lift pandemic-related restrictions, COVID funding allocations, specific to sustaining the current hotel shelter model, have been decreased and directions for Public Health, as it relates to operations of congregate settings, have been revised.”

According to the County of Simcoe, the average cost for the motel model is $850,000 per month including motel costs, staffing and program expenses to run the program at the Travelodge, housing as many as 140 to 175 people nightly.

TBC and EFS say the existing crisis remaining post-pandemic is the lack of affordable housing options and unattainable rental rates for people experiencing poverty and homelessness in our community.

“Without immediate available affordable housing or enough alternate emergency shelter options, people experiencing homelessness are forced to live in unsheltered locations forgoing safety, food security, and will have limited access to regular basis needs and transitional support to obtain housing,” the statement said.

The maximum available bed capacity at existing shelter locations is 62 combined at both agencies (25 at EFS and 38 at TBC) with eased Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures in place, leaving 108 individuals (not inclusive of new intakes or those already experiencing unsheltered homelessness) without safe access to shelter if an alternate solution is not presented in the few days before July 15.

“Through the generosity of a local church, space has been offered and discussions are continuing with shelter providers and key stakeholders to determine if this option is possible,” said County of Simcoe Warden George Cornell in an email to Barrie 360 earlier this week.

In Barrie, the motel model was also adopted by Youth Haven. The agency’s transitional program returned to its current location in April 2021 and the emergency shelter resumed operations from its Wellington Street site last October. As of Wednesday, Youth Haven had 19 clients in its shelter and 12 youths in its transitional home.

The Salvation Army Bayside Mission did not participate in the program and was able to meet distancing and isolation requirements from their downtown location.

On Saturday, a ‘Housing for All’ rally will take place in Barrie, beginning at the Travelodge at 10 a.m. and marchers heading to Meridian Place downtown.

“Barrie is facing a crushing housing and homelessness crisis,” said Coun. Keenan Aylwin, whose Ward 2 takes in the downtown. “Hundreds of our neighbours have been denied their basic human rights because it’s a basic human right that everyone needs shelter.”

“When we have people who are experiencing homelessness, these people are more likely to need emergency services, ambulance, fire and police, and they might get sick or injured more easily, and that’s a strain on our healthcare system.”

Aylwin said investing in housing and giving people an affordable place to call home will end up saving money because people are more likely to be able to get help for the problems that they’re facing in their life.

Banner image: Tents line Lakeshore Drive in Barrie on May 11, 2022, in a protest by the Busby Centre and Elizabeth Fry Society Simcoe Muskoka demonstrating the number of people who will be left unsheltered with the end of the emergency motel model program without alternate locations available.