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Published September 19, 2023

Open drug use, fearful tenants, vandalism concerns as city's community safety committee hosts public meeting on homelessness

Business owners, tenants, landlords and others, the vast majority who spoke to the City of Barrie's community safety committee on Tuesday, expressed concern about vandalism, open drug use, fearful employees, threats, and other issues they said were plaguing the downtown.

The public meeting was held as a follow-up to a sweeping motion approved by city council in May to address chronic homelessness.

Time and time again, people revisited the issue of public safety, expressing concern about what they felt was the decline in the downtown, a need for more policing in the core and measures to help the homeless, in particular those suffering from addiction.

But many speakers made clear their patience was wearing thin, with some fingers being pointed at the Busby Centre's operation on Mulcaster Street, suggesting the organization had ignored concerns of residents and was "in over its head" when it came to the number of individuals they were supporting on the property that they currently had.

Jason O'Neill, who owns and operates a McDonald's restaurant on Dunlop Street West, told the committee his employees and guests are being affected by the environment.

"Just about every day we have an emergency phone call to the police, whether it's an assault on a team member from an unwanted guest, fighting in the dining room, in the parking lot, the open drug use on the property or one of the many overdoses, which I won't get into."

O'Neill said the incidents were taking a toll on his employees and management team, noting that retention of staff "is off the charts."

Janet Kelso told the committee that she has lived in and around the downtown for 25 years and along with family members operate several rooming houses in the area.

"The challenge with the unhoused is the unruly unhoused," she noted. "We are turning a blind eye to those unlawful individuals who display no common decency or respect for the surroundings and the community. What was once a pleasant place to live and work is no longer."

She said tenants at her McDonald Street rooming house are afraid.

Kelso said Barrie needs a residential and day rehab centre. She told the committee she had personal experience with one of her own children and had success, but added it would not have been possible without rehabilitation.

Downtown business owner Chris Gerrard said they have lost a stronger police presence that existed before COVID.

"We had a high-efficiency action team. It was four officers dedicated to the downtown. They were there and they were seen."

He told the committee his employees pick up about 45 needles a week from their property.

"All homeless people aren't bad," Gerrard said. "There is a bad element, and it's called lawlessness."

Craig Stevens, Downtown Barrie BIA executive director, told the committee that as an event facilitator, the organization has now experienced first-hand over six overdoses and counting during BIA family events and at Meridian Place over the last few weeks, and even more overdoses and deaths in downtown alleys.

"We have gotten to the point of contemplating cancelling the events for the safety and well-being of our staff and attendees."

Jennifer van Gennip of Redwood Park Communities said she could not pass up the opportunity to advocate for permanent and supportive housing.

"Housing is an incredible stabilizer," she said.

She noted that in the Town of Simcoe, a service provider opened two supportive buildings that housed 95 people and had a 100 per cent retention rate, which the mayor credited with turning around the downtown.

Prior to the speakers, Chief Administrative Officer Michael Prowse laid out where the city was since that sweeping motion to deal with chronic homelessness was approved.

Bylaws that would have banned people from giving away or exchanging clothing, food, tents, tarps or other similar items on city property without permission remains in the hands of staff after it was deferred by council at a June 21st meeting.

Prowse expected an update to present to council before the end of the year.

He reminded everyone that the County of Simcoe was the service manager responsible for planning, funding and managing social housing, emergency shelters and homelessness services within the county as well as Barrie and Orillia.

The city has set aside $825,000 in each of the next two years to address homelessness in the community and some of the measures contained in the motion have been acted on and others are being actively pursued.

Examples include $10,000 each to the Elizabeth Fry Society and John Howard Society for a family reunification program, and a six-month pilot project in partnership with the Ministry of Solicitor General where the city will provide shuttle service to transport prisoners released from the Central North Correction Centre in Penetanguishene rather than having them dropped off at the bus terminal in Barrie.

Prowse also referred to the cooling centre that opened this summer and was managed by the Gilbert Centre.

"The County has advised it is engaged with partners to secure an operator of 20 Rose St modular units as a temporary shelter during winter 2023-2024 and is securing an agreement for additional warming centre services in Barrie – both funded through a partnership between the City and County," Prowe said in his update.

UPDATE FROM THE CITY OF BARRIE

REQUEST FUNDING FROM THE PROVINCE OF ONTARIO:

DIRECTION:
▪ Additional financial support for the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic to provide more beds and to increase the hours of operation; and for a similar organization that provides long-term
counselling and treatment.
UPDATE:
▪ Letter from Mayor Nuttall sent to Minister Tibollo requesting additional provincial funding.
▪ Met with Minister Tibollo at AMO conference. Minister requested to come to Barrie and meet with City and community partners for roundtable discussion in fall 2023.

FAMILY REUNIFICATION FUND:

DIRECTION:

  • Family Re-unification Fund to pay for the transportation costs and help re-unite individuals with families or support groups.
  • The operation of a shuttle service for individuals released from the Central North Correctional Centre.

UPDATE:

▪ City provided $20,000 to Elizabeth Fry and John Howard Society for family reunification.
▪ A six-month shuttle pilot in collaboration with the Ministry of Solicitor General will be launched September 2023.


COOLING/WARMING CENTRE

DIRECTION:

  • Approve funding for a Cooling and Warming Centre for at-risk individuals and the provision of daily meal programs that are currently being offered on public lands and in public parks over multiple years.

UPDATE:

  • The County of Simcoe and the City of Barrie partnered to provide funding to operate the first cooling centre in Barrie. The Gilbert Centre was awarded the contract for the operation of a seasonal cooling centre for unhoused residents from July– mid September 2023.
  • The County has advised it is engaged with partners to secure an operator of 20 Rose St modular units as a temporary shelter during winter 2023-2024 and is securing an agreement for additional warming centre services in Barrie – both funded through a partnership between the City and County.

FOOD SECURITY

DIRECTION:

  • Provide funding to the Salvation Army or a similar organization to support a lunch program.

UPDATE:

  • The City will be providing funding to Salvation Army to acknowledge the lunch program that they ran during COVID and to assist with fall campaigns.

DIRECTION:

  • Provide funding for food security programs through local agencies to reduce the needs associated with panhandling.

UPDATE:

  • An allocation of the funds identified in the direct motion will be provided to the County of Simcoe’s Social and Community Investment Fund to support local food security programs.

MOBILE OUTREACH PILOT

DIRECTION:

  • Request permanent funding from the Province of Ontario and the County of Simcoe for the County of Simcoe’s mobile outreach pilot program in downtown Barrie.

UPDATE:

  • Pending completion of the pilot in September 2023, the County of Simcoe and City of Barrie will meet to determine if the pilot was successful.
  • If deemed successful, a request will be made for permanent funding.

CITY OF BARRIE BYLAWS

DIRECTION:

  • Changes to City’s By-laws related to distribution of tents, tarps food and grocery products in public spaces and reducing the time required to address camping/storage of goods in parks and public spaces

UPDATE:

  • By-laws referred back to staff to modernize the language
  • By-laws are being reviewed in context of other municipalities’ by-laws and language updated.

PUBLIC EDUCATION: PANHANDLING

DIRECTION:

  • The placement of signs on City off-ramps to discourage panhandling or financial support thereof and encouraging donations to local social service agencies.

UPDATE:

  • An education campaign will be launched in late September to encourage residents to give money to organizations instead of panhandlers.

HOUSING PLEDGE

  • City Council pledged a commitment to the Province of building 23,000 homes to help meet the provincial housing target. 17,000 units have already been approved.
  • City Council at the August 16, 2023 meeting identified several parcels of City-owned land for possible sale.
  • It is expected that this additional land supply could help create additional housing to help to address the housing crisis in Barrie.

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