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'We do better sheltering our dogs and cats than fragile humans'

As wintry weather arrives, citizen raises concerns about fate of local people experiencing homelessness; 'I want truth and action'
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Carolyn Boyer has concerns for Barrie's homeless this winter.

As winter weather arrives in Barrie, Carolyn Boyer fears for the city’s homeless seeking shelter.

“I am a concerned citizen with no official status or backing, just a volunteer wanting to help with a population whom most ignore or judge,” Boyer, 80, said. “I want truth and action.

“We do better sheltering our dogs and cats than fragile humans.”

Boyer lives near the Salvation Army Bayside Mission in Barrie and will soon volunteer for Busby Centre again.

She sees Barrie’s homeless.

“I walk around my Dunlop (Street) neighbourhood and enjoy conversations with folks whom I meet along the way,” she said. “I follow closely news regarding how Barrie is caring for folks who are unsheltered, mentally ill, poor, unemployable, and elderly, etc.

“The use of motels during the pandemic, paid for by County (of Simcoe) funds, enabled many to access daily needs — shelter, food, essential services, etc. Now, shelter during the coming cold winter is an issue again.”

Boyer is unconvinced all those needing shelter this winter will get it.

From Jan. 23-25 this year, the County of Simcoe counted 722 people experiencing homelessness during its annual enumeration. Of those, 441 completed surveys and 50 per cent were from Barrie.

Barrie has 152 shelter beds, says the county, which is financially responsible for sheltering this city’s homeless.

County council has approved a plan to build a temporary homeless shelter with 50 beds on the site of the former Barrie OPP detachment, 20 Rose St., near Bayfield Street and Highway 400.

“The structure will be on site in the coming weeks and operational in December for the coldest months of the year,” said Greg Bishop, the county’s general manager of social and community services, on Nov. 11, noting the county is working closely with the City of Barrie on all necessary permits and approvals.

The temporary shelter structure is modular, so very little site work will need to be completed prior to delivery. It will arrive 98 per cent complete and can be placed on the site as is, then be connected to local utilities as needed.

Once operational it will mean Barrie has 202 shelter beds.

“We want residents to know there is still room available in the shelters in Barrie and in other communities in Simcoe County,” Bishop said. “If those spaces get filled up, the motel voucher program will be used until the new temporary shelter is open. The county has worked to support community partners to operate a warming centre in Barrie…to ensure those living unsheltered have access to a warm place to stay in the coldest months of the year.”

While the shelter system is publicly funded through the County of Simcoe, local shelters are not operated by the public sector. 

Private and not-for-profit shelters in Barrie include the Elizabeth Fry Society, serving women and gender diverse individuals, Salvation Army Bayside Mission, serving men, Busby Centre, and Youth Haven, serving youth 16 to 24 years old.

In addition to the temporary shelter and its 50 beds, the county is delivering additional projects including a warming centre in Barrie. It is operated by John Howard Society at Collier Street United Church, 7 days a week, 9 p.m. until 8:30 a.m., and opens when the Environment Canada forecast is for temperatures of -15 Celsius or colder.

While there are referrals to emergency shelter beds, depending on availability, it is chairs that are provided at the warming centre, not beds.

“How does anyone stay awake all day?” Boyer asked.

The Rose Street site is earmarked for a future affordable housing development, still planned to proceed, with construction beginning in 2024. It includes two wings of 10 and eight storeys with 150 affordable and social housing apartments for seniors, families and individuals, Ontario Works offices and children services, along with other social and community supportive uses.

In Orillia, the new Lighthouse Shelter is already regularly at capacity. A warming centre will open at the Orillia Community Church on cold nights again this winter.

For more information, visit simcoe.ca/findshelter.