Wide-range plan adopted by city council to address chronic homelessness in Barrie
The city will commit $825,000 over the next two years to help with some of these initiatives
From panhandling to community support and shelter services, city councillors have approved a wide-ranging plan to tackle the issue of chronic homelessness in Barrie.
The city has committed $825,000 over the next two years with some of these initiatives, but there will also have to be buy-in from the province.
The motion that was approved by city council on Wednesday night is as complex as the problem of homelessness itself.
Signage will be placed on city off-ramps to discourage panhandling or financial support, and there will be methods to prohibit payments to panhandlers on city streets, intersections and highway ramps.
“When it comes to panhandling, if you’re looking to help individuals who are suffering from homelessness or mental health and addiction issues, there are the proper agencies around to be able to provide that,” said Mayor Alex Nuttall. “You know, we’ve got the Busby, we have Elizabeth Fry, we have John Howard, we have Youth Haven, and we have just so many across the board that do such incredible work.”
The signage will encourage donations to local social service agencies.
The changes to the city’s by-laws, protocols and processes will prohibit the use or distribution of tents or tarps in public spaces without a permit, prohibit the distribution of food and grocery products in public spaces without a permit, and reduce the time required to address camping in parks and storage of goods in parks or public spaces.
The city will seek additional funding from the provincial government for a rapid access addiction medicine clinic (RAM), and to provide more beds, and increase hours of operation for a similar organization that provides long-term counselling and treatment.
“There needs to be greater opportunity for folks who are hurting and who are suffering from addictions and mental health issues to be able to get right into services and be able to be met where they are at,” said the mayor.
The motion includes funding for a cooling and warming centre for at-risk individuals where meal programs can be provided that are currently being offered on public lands and in public parks, and for the Salvation Army or a similar organization to support a lunch program.
“Some of the agencies have been going to public parks to hand out food,” explains Nuttall. “And that’s where they believe they should be doing it.”
Nuttall feels a greater opportunity exists to help the individual when they’re able to go into the service that’s providing these items.
“The goal is to have a different location and not be doing these things in public parks where the kids are playing. It’s important we help those who are hurting as well as protecting our spaces that are meant for families and young people, and make sure that there is a safe environment.”
The mayor says the city has the capacity to be able to fund it alongside the County of Simcoe.
“The County of Simcoe has provided a budget of around $100,000, and we have been told that the total cost of the heating and cooling centre would be somewhere around $300,000.”
There would also be the creation of a family reunification fund to pay for the transportation costs and help reunite individuals with families or support groups, as well as the operation of a shuttle service for individuals released from the Centre North Correctional Centre.
The city will seek permanent funding from the province and the County of Simcoe for the County of Simcoe’s mobile outreach pilot program in downtown Barrie, if deemed to be successful by the city and the county.
Asked if there was buy-in from frontline agencies that work with the homeless, Nuttall said a lot of this was a response to the service agencies like their request for the cooling and heating centre.
As well, the mayor said agencies told them they don’t have the funds to get people back to their family support or friends’ support in their home communities, thus the need for a family reunification fund.
“We’re not going to be able to undo 10 or 15 years in a single direction overnight,” said the mayor. “I think this is part of a longer-term approach, and you can figure out what does work and what doesn’t work.”
He accepts the fact not everybody is going to be happy with everything that’s been passed in the motion, but Nuttall believes it is a balanced approach.
“At the end of the day, there will be items that work and items that don’t work. We need to learn from our defeats and celebrate our victories in terms of helping individuals realize an even stronger life ahead of them.”
In January 2022, the homeless enumeration was conducted in Simcoe County and 722 people were counted as experiencing homelessness. Of this number, at least 50% are homeless in Barrie. 15% of those homeless and surveyed in Barrie have moved here in the past year.
The complete motion follows.
1. That the Chief Administrative Officer consider/utilize the following options to address chronic homelessness and enhance public safety in the City of Barrie:
a) Request Funding from the Province of Ontario for:
- additional financial support for the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic to provide more beds an to increase the hours of operation; and
- for a similar organization that provides long-term counselling and treatment.
b) Approve funding for the following:
- a 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;
- 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;
- to the Salvation Army or a similar organization to support a lunch program; and
- for food security programs through local agencies to reduce the needs associated with panhandling.
c) 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, if deemed to be successful by the City of Barrie and the County of Simcoe.
d) Changes to the City’s By-laws, protocols, and processes to:
- prohibit the use or distribution of tents or tarps in public parks or on public lands without a permit;
- prohibit the distribution of food and grocery products in public spaces without the use of a permit; and
- reduce the time required to address camping in parks and storage of goods in parks or public spaces.
e) Methods to prohibit the payment to panhandlers on City Streets, intersections, and highway ramps.
f) The placement of signs on City off-ramps to discourage panhandling or financial support thereof and encouraging donations to local social service agencies.
g) Work with the County of Simcoe and Province of Ontario on ways to build more supportive housing for community members experiencing adverse mental health or addictions.
h) Appeal to the County of Simcoe for funding to help individuals transition from unemployment to employment through training opportunities.
i) Schedule a public meeting to be held at the Community Safety Committee regarding the chronic homelessness, addictions and mental health supports in the City of Barrie.
j) Have staff apply for any provincial or federal funding opportunities available to support the options outlined this motion.
2. That funding of up to $825,000 per annum for 2 years from the Re-Investment Reserve be made available to fund any of the options detailed in paragraph 1 that are undertaken, as required.
3. That, if necessary, the Chief Administrative Officer be authorized to waive the City’s purchasing by-law to award any items or services required to undertake the options listed in paragraph 1.
4. That the Chief Administrative Officer provide quarterly updates to the Community Safety Committee regarding the effectiveness of the options that are undertaken as part of this motion.
Banner image: File photo – homeless encampment – Milligan’s Pond – Barrie