Collingwood’s council is using some of its COVID-relief contingency fund to help pay for a study looking into the feasibility of a permanent homeless shelter in the area.
The study was proposed by Collingwood’s Out of the Cold task force, which launched an emergency overnight shelter in December. At the time, the task force said the temporary shelter service would be a three-year pilot project.
Marg Scheben-Edey said the group is now pitching a feasibility study so it can better plan for the future.
“We learned a great deal both through our regular first season and through the COVID pandemic,” she said. “We have been able to gather valuable data … and we want an independent third party to look at the situation in our region and make recommendations.”
The task force wants to hire a consulting firm called OrgCode, which has experience in projects related to homelessness.
The consultants would be hired – at a cost of $18,750 – to conduct surveys and interviews and analyze data collected to come up with a recommendation on the feasibility of a permanent shelter service in South Georgian Bay (including The Blue Mountains, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, and Clearview Township).
“We have no preconceived notion of what is needed,” said Scheben-Edey. “We’re trying to keep an open mind about that.”
Essentially, she said, the consultants would be answering the question: does the community need a shelter, and, if not, what do they need?
“We would very much like to see this start in September,” said Scheben-Edey, noting the consultants already stated they can have a report completed in a month. “We’re very anxious for it. Right now it’s so difficult to do planning in the pandemic environment.”
In December, Out of the Cold was operating the overnight shelter out of the E3 building located on Peel Street. They used the building at night time and E3 used the building during the day.
Out of the Cold had ten beds available each night. The shelter hosted 52 different guests and 41 more people who were diverted to other supports and counselling. Guests stayed anywhere from one to 103 nights during the shelter’s first 146 days in operation.
When the pandemic hit, the shelter had to shift its operations to an “isolation model” using funding provided by Simcoe County to put each person in a hotel room. The shelter has continued to operate this way ever since, but it’s unclear how long the funding will flow.
“It’s all currently unknown,” said Scheben-Edey. “We know it will end, but when?”
According to a letter from Pamela Hillier, executive director of Community Connection, which is overseeing operation of the Out of the Cold shelter program, there are plans to return to the Peel Street building next year, but those plans are at the mercy of COVID-19.
“At this time, the task force is not certain if the program will be able to meet COVID health directives in the location at 250 Peel, while the pandemic continues over the next year or so,” wrote Hillier. “The feasibility study would be immensely valuable to our community for planning the services needed for this vulnerable population.”
Collingwood council voted in favour of funding 50 per cent of the feasibility study for just over $9,000. Council opted to take the money from the $2.5 million COVID-19 contingency fund it set aside earlier this year using funds from the proceeds of the sale of the town’s electrical utility and airport.
Council also agreed to send a request to The Blue Mountains, Clearview, and Wasaga Beach councils asking them to pitch in for the remaining 50 per cent cost of the feasibility study.
The Blue Mountains council has agreed to support the study with $3,125 on the condition it has a “truly regional perspective,” to include the municipalities providing funding.
According to the information provided by OrgCode to the task force, the study work will include consultants interviewing 12 “key informants” to gather their perspectives on a permanent shelter being added to Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, or Clearview Township.
Scheben-Edey said people who have used the shelter this year have come from across the region including Grey Highlands, The Blue Mountains, Wasaga Beach, Clearview Township, and Collingwood.
However, many are transient so it’s difficult to say where exactly they are coming from when they arrive at the emergency shelter.
Wasaga Beach council has received the letter at an Aug. 13 coordinated committee meeting and will be making its final decision on the matter on Aug. 25.
Scheben-Edey said if the area municipalities do not contribute financially, Out of the Cold would have to use funding earmarked for the operation of the shelter.
“It would be very frustrating and concerning to do this,” she said. “But it would be irresponsible not to have a properly planned forward direction.”
The town of Collingwood already gave Out of the Cold $75,000 in start-up funding for the operation of the shelter last year.