A small butterfly emoji posted today announced the death of a person who had been experiencing homelessness in Barrie or Collingwood.
The Busby Centre, which oversees operation of homeless shelters and services in Collingwood and Barrie, has a practice of posting a butterfly to acknowledge the death of someone in the community who spent time unsheltered.
Busby Centre executive director Sara Peddle said she wouldn’t confirm where the person died in the interest of protecting privacy.
“We want to protect privacy, but we also want to make sure we are honouring people that we’re losing,” said Peddle. “I can’t share if it was even in Collingwood or not.”
The butterfly is posted for a death that occurs from any cause, whether it’s long-term illness or exposure to cold. It was posted to both the Out of the Cold Collingwood Facebook page and the Busby Centre Facebook page.
The Busby Centre took over operations of Out of the Cold Collingwood in 2020.
Though there were some rumours circulating that a man died while outside and unsheltered this weekend in Collingwood, OPP confirmed there were no instances of police being called in for a death in Collingwood over the last seven days.
OPP and the Collingwood Fire Department also confirmed there were no calls on Saturday night related to a situation involving a person suffering cold exposure in town.
Peddle confirmed there is room enough for anyone without shelter to come in out of the cold through the temporary Collingwood shelter program. The program has approval from the County of Simcoe to expand capacity for the winter.
Since the start of the pandemic, Out of the Cold has been operating out of a local motel, offering those without shelter a place to stay day and night.
“We have increased capacity quite a bit specifically because of the cold weather,” said Peddle, who noted there are 21 people currently in the temporary shelter motel rooms, which is up from about a dozen two weeks ago.
“We’re not turning anybody away,” she added. “I know there’s been some question about that. We’re not turning anyone away. It is way too cold.”
Out of the Cold Collingwood offers those without shelter a place to stay night and day, staff support those in the motel rooms by bringing them food and supplies and offering support based on the individual’s needs.
There are also instances where Out of the Cold works with other shelter services and may refer people to other services where appropriate.
“We look after them until we can get them into houses,” said Peddle.
In Barrie, the Busby Centre operates a shelter in addition to other services such as a warming centre where people can come to sit and get warm but not necessarily spend the entire night.
“Some people, due to whatever it is for them, may not want to come into a shelter and we have to respect that,” said Peddle, noting some people have trauma connected to shelters, or fear of them.
Peddle told Collingwood council on Monday evening that there was a case where a bylaw enforcement officer brought someone to one of the Busby shelters and the person was reluctant, but agreed to stay, then decided 30 minutes later to leave.
“That’s OK. We helped him where he’s at and made sure he had supplies to keep him safe,” explained Peddle.
In the South Georgian Bay area, Out of the Cold Collingwood staff do outreach one or two days a week to let those who are unsheltered know they can come to the local temporary shelter, and offer other supports.
Peddle said the local shelter also works with police, bylaw, and the hospital to accept people who need shelter. There is an emergency bed at Out of the Cold reserved for anyone who might be brought in by emergency services through the night.
There is also a winter shelter phone line established to support anyone unsheltered during winter months. It is answered 24/7 by trained staff and can be reached at 705-828-3795.
If you see someone who needs support or are with someone who needs support you can call that number and staff will respond.
Anyone who would like to help with local shelter programs and support, including making food for people in the shelter, can email email@example.com or call 705-739-6916.
Locally, Community Connection also provides information on what supports are available for a variety of situations, including homelessness. You can reach them by dialing 211.