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'Urgent' plea for youth housing project stalls at city hall

Council holds off on sending $40K funding request to budget; 'It is you, the City of Orillia, who needs to move forward,' says proponent of new facility
From left: Krista Storey, Tracy Wood and Marci Csumrik are shown at the Orillia City Centre, where they made a presentation to council Monday in support of a youth transitional housing facility in Orillia.

Proponents of a youth transitional housing facility in Orillia have been asked to reach out to the County of Simcoe to get more information.

During its meeting Monday, council stopped short of referring a $40,000 request for a feasibility study to budget committee for its consideration.

Coun. Janet-Lynne Durnford initially suggested a motion to send the request to budget talks. However, city CAO Gayle Jackson noted a county representative who made a presentation earlier in the meeting regarding the county’s affordable housing and homelessness strategy was not aware of the group’s push for youth transitional housing.

Jackson suggested the proponents meet with the county, since it is the city’s designated social services provider, as a first step in getting more details about the proposed project.

Council agreed and passed a motion to suggest that meeting take place and that the county report back to council later.

Following the group’s presentation to council, but prior to the above-mentioned motion being passed, the proponents spoke with OrilliaMatters and stressed the need to act fast.

“This is so urgent, and we need to get the plans in motion so that we can get on the City of Orillia’s 2024 budget, but also for us, as a community, to be able to mobilize for a capital campaign,” said Krista Storey, who made the presentation to council with Marci Csumrik and Tracy Wood, operations director with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Simcoe County.

Early intervention has been recommended by experts, and that’s what the group is proposing, Storey said.

“The evidence has already been gathered. It is you, the City of Orillia, who needs to move forward in partnership with Simcoe County as well as the province and the federal government. That work should not be left to volunteers,” she said.

With the Orillia Youth Centre being in need of a larger facility, looking at a project that combines that with youth transitional housing “makes total sense,” Storey said.

Much of the talk about affordable housing focuses on seniors. They need support, Storey acknowledged, but added, “We’re talking about children, really, and they need that same attention.

“They are also vulnerable. If we want to stop the chronic use of emergency services later in life, the only way to do that is to get to them sooner.”

Wood agreed, saying projects underway and proposed for seniors in Orillia are important, but “youth in this community also deserve to be supported.”

“It’s time to move the needle,” she said.

During the presentation to council, Csumrik noted reports about youth homelessness in Orillia have been prepared over the course of 20 years.

“In the fall of 2021, coming out of the pandemic, the situation for youth in our community was dire and we could no longer sit quietly,” she said.

So, the group once again started gathering information and support. That included looking for a partner to help with housing, and that’s where the Elizabeth Fry Society came in.

That organization is already involved with related services in Bracebridge and Barrie.

Alex’s Place in Bracebridge is owned by the District Municipality of Muskoka, with on-site support provided by the Elizabeth Fry Society.

In Barrie, Paula’s Place is owned by the County of Simcoe, while the Elizabeth Fry Society provides services including property management and the Busby Centre provides 24-hour on-site support.

Paula’s Place has 14 units for people 24 and older, and there are residents of Orillia currently using those services.

During the presentation, Wood provided testimonials from those who have used the services of Alex’s Place.

“This is the first place in my whole life where I can sleep at night and feel safe,” one said.

Another person, who is leaving Alex’s Place and heading off to post-secondary school, said, “I have never imagined being where I am in life right now without Alex’s Place.”

The vision for a youth transitional housing facility in Orillia, according to a slide show presented Monday, includes the following:

  • Twenty-four-hour, single-staffed, on-site support and case management focused on client-directed goals;
  • On-site staff trained and experienced in service delivery designed for youth;
  • Fourteen self-sustained units with a common room, staff office, and community kitchen;
  • A four-year program designed for youth ages 16 to 18 (intake ages) who are experiencing chronic homelessness in Orillia;
  • A youth transitional housing program that would collaborate with youth-serving organizations that support LGBTQ2+ and BIPOC communities, and other youth resources that deliver services in Orillia;
  • A person-centred program that would operate from a harm-reduction and trauma-informed approach, with no preconditions for occupancy.

The group is suggesting a new Orillia Youth Centre project be combined with transitional housing in one facility, and that the city own and maintain the building.

The group noted the youth centre has outgrown its current space on Front Street. It is 3,600 square feet, but the ideal size is 6,000 square feet. There isn’t much programming space and it doesn’t include a “soft space” or counselling rooms. There isn’t any outdoor greenspace — just a small parking lot — and there is limited kitchen facilities. Also, the basement has flooded numerous times.

The centre pays more than $50,000 per year in rent, which the group suggests could be reinvested into a new facility.

“There’s been a longstanding call to do something on this front,” said Coun. Jay Fallis.

He asked if the proponents had any “dream locations” in mind.

Some have been discussed, all of which are in the downtown area, Storey said, but added specific sites would be identified as part of a feasibility study.

It is unclear when a meeting between the project proponents and the County of Simcoe might take place and when the county will provide a subsequent report to council.


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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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