County councillors threw their support behind a plan to bring 50 more homeless shelter beds to Barrie before the cold weather sets in.
County of Simcoe council has approved a plan to build a temporary homeless shelter on their property at 20 Rose St. in Barrie by November.
The idea came to the council table on Aug. 9 with a staff report noting an increase in homelessness county-wide since the start of the pandemic.
“The past couple of years have been extremely challenging, and we’ve had some tough discussions here. To see where we are now, I want to say I really appreciate all of the effort and hard work that has been done,” said Warden George Cornell.
“This matter is complex, and there’s still work to be done,” he added.
The request for proposals (RFP) for the design of the temporary shelter on Rose Street was issued by the county on July 25, with a deadline of Aug. 11. The award is to be decided by Aug. 22 with an occupancy requirement of Nov. 15.
The parameters of the RFP include either one temporary structure containing 50 sleeping spaces, or two temporary buildings with 25 sleeping spaces each. The space(s) would include one kitchen and six three-piece washrooms, common space and office space.
“We’re looking at something that would be modular,” said Greg Bishop, the county’s general manager of social services. “It could also be something that could be taken down and moved to another location. It would look permanent in terms of walls and a roof.”
The site was formerly the Barrie OPP detachment and is earmarked for future affordable housing development, which is still planned to proceed.
“[The temporary shelter] could be converted down the road to supportive or transitional housing,” said Bishop.
Bishop confirmed that of the 223 shelter spots in Simcoe County there were 49 beds open and unoccupied as of Aug. 8.
Further broken down, Bishop said there were 19 beds open at Barrie’s Busby Centre location, 10 beds available at Barrie’s Elizabeth Fry location, two beds open at The Guesthouse in Midland, five open beds at the Lighthouse in Orillia, Barrie’s Salvation Army had seven and Barrie’s Youth Haven had six.
It was also noted during the meeting that empty bed numbers are communicated daily to all shelter providers.
“There are many reasons why people come and go and we understand that and respect it, but we thought it was important for people to know that beds aren’t currently at capacity at this moment, but that could change,” said Bishop.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman clarified that shelter demand is historically lower in August, as many people experiencing homelessness instead opt to sleep outdoors.
“When winter time approaches and the weather returns in the fall, individuals may be seeking (more) opportunities for sheltering,” Bishop noted.
Included in the overall update, county staff say they have been working with Town of Collingwood staff and the Busby Centre to identify a potential opportunity for a site for Out of the Cold (OOTC) operations in Collingwood this coming fall. Pre-pandemic, Collingwood had no year-round physical emergency shelter option.
Through the pandemic, the county has been supporting, with grants from the federal and provincial governments, a motel shelter model to give people experiencing homelessness across Simcoe County a safe place to sleep and shelter while being separated to prevent potential spread of the virus.
Since then, all but two of the emergency shelter providers that participated were able to transition back to normal operations as of the funding end date of June 30.
Barrie and Collingwood’s emergency motel shelter programs (both run by The Busby Centre) were also originally slated to end as of June 30, however, were provided with two two-week extensions to their programs, at a cost of $400,000 and $104,000 to the county, respectively.
Most recently, the board of directors for the Busby Centre voted in favour of covering expenses related to hotel costs to maintain the motel setting in Collingwood to the end of August.
The county also has a motel voucher program to be used as an interim measure for people who have an alternate housing option and are waiting for it to be available.
Bishop's report notes that when the Collingwood motel model closed at the end of July, 32 people were displaced from the shelter at that time, but were all connected with county staff.
Of those 32 individuals, two were assisted by financial means to move to more permanent housing/shelter options, four completed applications for domiciliary care, one was transferred to a domestic violence shelter and one received assistance to apply for social housing.
“Of the remaining individuals, several have identified a preference to relocate to other communities within Simcoe County and to other communities in Ontario. There were individuals in both settings who declined on-site supports and who identified an intention to exercise other options, including living outdoors,” wrote Bishop in the report.