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Time crunched in search for Collingwood homeless shelter space

Funding for COVID-19 hotel model runs out June 30 while Busby Centre works to find Collingwood option for year-round lodging-style shelter
2022-01-09 Homeless 2
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It’s down to the wire for emergency shelters across Simcoe County, as provincial funding for COVID-19 shelters in hotels is slated to run out June 30.

During Tuesday’s (June 28) County of Simcoe committee of the whole meeting, county councillors received a report from staff regarding the temporary motel shelter model wind down and transition plan for all six of their COVID-19 emergency shelters that had been served through the model, including Collingwood’s.

“We’re looking at alternative spaces right now to move our (Collingwood hotel emergency shelter model) into a different space for a more group lodging type shelter,” said Sara Peddle, executive director of the David Busby Centre which oversees both Barrie and Collingwood emergency shelter operations. “We don’t want to turn people out into the street.”

Pre-pandemic, Collingwood and South Georgian Bay’s temporary emergency shelter – Out of the Cold Collingwood – ran from November 2019 until April 2020, and was planned to run for three winter seasons until a permanent emergency shelter solution was worked out to serve South Georgian Bay.

However, the pandemic hit during the shelter’s first operational season and in the two years since, the Collingwood homelessness landscape has become more severe. In May 2021, the shelter transitioned their daily operational oversight from Community Connections to the David Busby Centre.

Peddle said there are between 18 and 20 people experiencing homelessness in Collingwood today that would be displaced with nowhere to go should the COVID-19 hotel emergency shelter completely close. She added there are also some people experiencing homelessness who are being supported by Busby Centre Outreach in South Georgian Bay.

While emergency shelter in South Georgian Bay pre-pandemic was winter only, Peddle says the move to a possible year-round shelter model is necessary now.

“At this point, I don’t think we have a choice,” said Peddle. “Pre-pandemic, we were really hopeful that by now, there was going to be a lot more housing being built. We weren’t anticipating a pandemic. Unfortunately, the need for sheltering is at-capacity in Collingwood.”

Pre-pandemic, the first season of Out of the Cold Collingwood was funded through a $75,000 donation from the Town of Collingwood, in addition to charitable donations and money raised in the Collingwood community.

Once the COVID-19 emergency hotel model was put in place, six area shelters, including Collingwood’s, were then funded through provincial funding dollars which meant the shelters could save fundraising dollars for their return to regular operations.

However, the county has said the provincially funded motel model is not sustainable.

According to the staff report considered by councillors on Tuesday, the county estimates the temporary motel shelter model in Barrie alone costs approximately $850,000 per month inclusive of hotel rental, program supplies and enhanced staffing.

In the fall of 2021, Youth Haven in Barrie and The Lighthouse in Orillia were supported through the county to return to their regular congregate pre-COVID settings. The Salvation Army in Barrie had remained within their congregate setting throughout the pandemic.

As COVID-19 surged in the late fall of 2021, transition planning was paused for the Elizabeth Fry Society of Simcoe-Muskoka in Barrie, the Busby Centre (both Barrie and Collingwood locations) and The Guesthouse Shelter in Midland.

On May 11, county staff received confirmation from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit that capacity limits for homeless shelters in Simcoe County were lifted.

However, the population of people experiencing homelessness county-wide has significantly increased over the two years since the pandemic started.

The Elizabeth Fry Society transitioned back to their regular congregate shelter setting on June 14.

The Barrie Busby Centre has been granted an extension for hotel funding until July 15. As of June 28, the City of Barrie pledged $400,000 to that shelter’s operations, and the County of Simcoe pledged another $800,000.

As of today, the Collingwood emergency shelter is still running out of a local hotel. Peddle said Busby has advocated for a Collingwood extension as well until July 15, however she said is still waiting on official word on whether it will be approved.

“When we first got involved in the Collingwood project, the reasons why people were becoming homeless were a bit different. A lot of it was just around affordability,” said Peddle. “However, Collingwood has seen higher acuity individuals in the last year or so because the population of people experiencing homelessness across the province has become transient. We’ve had releases from different institutions such as hospitals into the community.”

“We get a lot of pressure in Collingwood from the Grey-Bruce area and Dufferin area,” she said. “I’m proud of our community as advocates and funders to say this is not OK, and where does the buck stop?”

Moving forward out of the COVID-19 models, Peddle says the County of Simcoe has now pledged $60,000 toward Collingwood emergency shelter operations through provincial and federal funding for the 2022/23 season, and the Town of Collingwood has also provided further funding to the program. Community fundraising will still be required to keep any emergency shelter model going.

“A lot of it will also have to be community support, because unfortunately, the numbers are pretty high,” said Peddle.

Peddle said the issue overall needs support from federal and provincial governments to avoid transient communities putting pressure on local resources.

“I’d love the solution to always be that housing is being built and it’s going to be affordable and people are going to be able to live, but until we’ve figured that out as a society, then we’re kind of stuck with what we have,” said Peddle.

“We’re just going to keep shuffling people into the next community, and people become the collateral damage of very broken systems in our country.”

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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 Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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