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Homelessness issue ‘hitting crisis proportions’: Collingwood mayor

A teen, recently part of Collingwood's homeless population, has died by suicide.
2019-02-13 SaundersonCounty JO-001
Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson's nameplate in the County of Simcoe council chambers. Jessica Owen/CollingwoodToday

The flag at the Collingwood Public Library will be flying at half mast this week.

The gesture is in honour of local teen Alex*, who was featured in a series of stories on youth homelessness that ran in CollingwoodToday at the end of November. He died by suicide on Feb. 7.

In Simcoe County council chambers on Tuesday morning, Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson paid tribute to Alex by opting to support a motion to provide $150,000 in funding to the David Busby Centre in Barrie.

“I will certainly speak in favour of this, having seen the presentation today, but also knowing the level of homelessness through the remuneration already received last year,” said Saunderson.

“I know in Collingwood, we’ve had reports of people and families living in tents. Recently there was an article in CollingwoodToday that highlighted the need in our community,” he continued. “One of the named subjects in that article recently took his life.”

“To me, it’s an issue where we’re hitting crisis proportions, so I will be voting in favour,” said Saunderson.

While the capital funding request will be going toward the Barrie centre’s renovations, executive director Sara Peddle noted people experiencing homelessness county-wide go to the centre during the cold winter months.

“The whole philosophy behind creating these service hubs is to make the shortest path from homelessness to housing for people. Everything we’ve done in our organization is from a housing-first perspective,” said Peddle.

The David Busby Street Centre provides services to homeless people in Barrie.

Located at 88 Mulcaster St., the centre has recently completed renovations to allow for new 24/7 group-lodging shelter services. While the 55 new spaces opened in December of 2018, the agency continues to fundraise to cover the related capital renovation costs.

Since opening the shelter doors in late December 2018, the centre has, on many evenings, housed up to 67 overnight guests. When numbers exceed beds, those coming to the door are still accommodated outside the dorm area and given chairs as an alternative.

More than 2,200 participants receive help every year from the centre.

Of the $998,000 needed to complete the renovations, $457,000 has been raised through community donations and organizational savings, $200,000 has been provided by the City of Barrie and $93,000 is pledged through the Capital Leasehold Improvement Project 2019-2021.

Some councillors expressed concern about the precedent that would be set by writing cheques for every group that comes to council with an ask.

“I was going to actually hold my tongue on this, but I’m a little concerned when we go down this road,” said Ramara Township Mayor Basil Clarke. “I know we have The Lighthouse in Orillia that’s made a huge ask from our municipality. I’m sure there are different centres across Simcoe County. But once we go down this road, where does it stop?”

“Does any other councillor know of any other projects similar to this that are going to come before us and say, ‘You gave money to the David Busby Centre, what about us?’ That’s my concern,” he said.

Greg Bishop, general manager of social and community services, outlined the other services the county supports when it comes to social housing.

“We have a number of shelters that we’ve supported traditionally for several years: Youth Haven, the Elizabeth Fry Society, The Guesthouse in Midland... this includes The Lighthouse in Orillia which is moving toward a Building Hope brand. We have provided some assistance to them,” said Bishop.

“We do not have emergency shelters in other communities, aside from Midland, Orillia and Barrie,” said Bishop. “We do know there is a migrating pattern of those who need services to go to the centres where there are services... depending on their individual circumstances.”

Council voted to approve the $150,000 to the David Busby Centre for capital purposes, to be drawn from the social services reserve.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: In our original stories on youth homelessness, Alex requested his last name not be included. CollingwoodToday has made the decision to continue to honour that request.

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering County of Simcoe matters, education and features.
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