The Ontario government is providing several million dollars to help local homeless shelter staff and residents.
The Ontario government is providing $3,878,008 to help service managers across Simcoe County respond to an increase in COVID-19 cases in some emergency shelters and help keep vulnerable people safe. The new funding will protect homeless shelter staff and residents, as well as help prevent more people from becoming homeless.
In total, the county will receive $11,633,216 through the Social Services Relief Fund (SSRF).
Simcoe County Warden George Cornell said staff will review the system requirements and make recommendations to county council to best allocate the money in order to generate the greatest impact in the region.
"On behalf of county council, I would like to thank the province for supporting our most vulnerable residents with this important funding commitment. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the county has stepped forward to address local issues, expanding our motel program, supporting shelters and assisting residents in need,” he said.
“Our approach has maximized resources, including the increased support and programs for the local shelter system and deployment of county paramedics to provide vital health and safety checks in our shelters and emergency motel areas," Cornell added. "These funds will help the county to continue to offer essential services and meet increasing needs across Simcoe County.”
Capt. Stephanie Watkinson, executive director for Salvation Army Barrie Bayside Mission, which offers temporary emergency shelter to 26 men, 21 years of age or older who are experiencing homelessness, told BarrieToday this funding is going to be extremely helpful in allowing the organization and others like it, help those who need it the most.
"It's going to be tremendously important, because we have been having a lot of evictions lately, so not only are the shelters all overloaded as it is, we are now getting a lot more people being evicted," she said. "If additional funds come, that will help us not only to maintain people housed, but also help people who are needing to be sheltered."
Any additional funding the region can get will ultimately have a tremendous impact, Watkinson said.
"As a non-profit organization, we haven’t had to purchase a lot of PPE (personal protective equipment) because the county has been able to supply us with it," she said. "That has helped us with our operating budget tremendously because we are not worrying about it and it saves us from having to fund-raise for it because it wasn’t part of our original budget for this year."
Sara Peddle, executive director at the David Busby Centre in Barrie and Out of the Cold Collingwood, said she's encouraged to know that there is confirmed commitment to keep focusing on keeping those without a home safe during the pandemic.
“We are excited to hear how this funding will impact our local systems,” she said. “This funding is important as we are currently seeing a significant inflow to the homeless sector for a multitude of reasons including job loss, discharge from institution, marital breakdown, etc.”
The government, added Peddle, has supported organizations such as the Busby Centre by giving them the means to keep workers and vulnerable persons protected.
“The County of Simcoe, as the service manager for federal and provincial funding, has been extremely supportive and has empowered organizations on the front line to get creative in our solution to keep people safe,” she said. “We hope that the next step in the efforts to protect people who are experiencing homelessness from this pandemic is the increase in purpose-built, supportive, attainable housing options.”
That, Peddle added, will be imperative to transition the more than 150 people the David Busby Centre is supporting daily (in partnership with the Elizabeth Fry Society in Barrie and Out of the Cold in Collingwood sheltering programs) and the additional 40-plus individuals they are supporting through Street Outreach who are unsheltered in Barrie alone, into permanent housing.
“There have been strong partnerships and creative initiatives that we have developed during this last year in an emergency response that we believe could become significant post pandemic system changes to support people experiencing homelessness in a more meaningful way with healthier and safer outcomes,” she said. “Simcoe County was the only community to conduct a Homelessness Enumeration during the pandemic and the results speak for themselves.”
Those survey results from the enumeration showed there were more than 500 people who were homeless in Simcoe County this winter. Barrie accounted for almost half of those who responded to the survey.
"Protecting Ontario’s most vulnerable is our No. 1 priority as the COVID-19 crisis continues," York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney said in a news release.
The funding, she added, will enable service partners to acquire motel and hotel spaces to support physical distancing of shelter residents, hire more shelter staff, and purchase PPE and cleaning supplies. It can also be added to rent and utility banks to prevent more people from becoming homeless.
The funding is the province’s additional $255-million investment through the SSRF, which was launched in March 2020 to help protect the health and safety of the province’s most vulnerable people during COVID-19.
“We are responding to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and applying funding where it is needed across Simcoe County and within our communities in Simcoe North," said Jill Dunlop, MPP for Simcoe North. "This additional funding will help to improve the safe delivery of critical services, and further ensure to protect homeless shelter staff and residents."
Ensuring the entire community stays healthy will be key to post-COVID recovery for everyone, said Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin.
“This additional funding will further assist shelters to protect and accommodate the vulnerable population in our community, and the front-line workers who care for them, while preventing any future outbreaks," she said. "We must protect everyone in our community against COVID-19, especially our community members who are most at risk.”