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City, county team up to buy a motel

They're going to fix it up to create an around-the-clock service hub for those struggling to stay housed
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Barrie and Simcoe County are buying a motel to convert to supportive housing to help the David Busby Street Centre and Redwood Park Communities help people not just stay housed, but rebuild their lives.

“It’s great the county’s embracing the model,” said Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, after the motel-conversion proposal was approved without any questions or concerns from mayors and deputy mayors throughout the region.

County council, plus representatives from Barrie and Orillia, then went into private session to discuss acquiring the site for the new social services pilot project.

“One of the larger issues both Barrie and the county are having with affordable housing is we’re making progress, but we’re not reaching those in deepest need.  This targets people who are chronically homeless – that’s what the motel conversion does.

“Because of such complex needs, you have to make a bigger, deeper (investment).”

The two social service agencies urged the local governments to support their vision of a round-the-clock service hub for those struggling to stay housed.

“This is 24/7 on-site support. It makes a huge difference,” said Lehman, who added Barrie Municipal Non-Profit Housing offers affordable rents and round-the-clock support for apartment issues.

For those struggling with mental health and addictions, however, counseling or support when they need it could be life-changing.

“You hear the term ‘wrap-around’ service. A lot of our housing providers are landlords who provide support for (plumbing and other issues like that). There’s not necessarily an addictions counselor or a mental health worker on the phone at 3 a.m.”

Redwood Park Communities and the Busby Centre initially proposed adding tiny homes to the motel site to boost the number of supportive units that could be offered.

However, the plan is to move ahead in phases, beginning with the motel and a neighbouring house that’s used as an office.

The county has applied for $1.8 million in provincial Home for Good grant support to help with the renovations needed to help create five units created in the house and 12 in the motel. Word on that is expected by August.

Even if the county receives all the money it requested, the project will still need $605,000 for the conversion work; that cash could come from the county’s social housing reserve.

Redwood Park Communities and the Busby Centre would ask faith communities and service clubs to support the project with cash, good and services, said Doriano Calvano, the county’s social policy and planning manager.

If the province doesn’t support the project, the project will need up to $2.4 million in capital funding and up to $300,000 for operating costs.

For a later phase, Redwood Park Communities and the Busby Centre also envision 10 tiny homes, which would have porches, being constructed around the detached house. There would also be a community garden on the site.

“The model is a key thing. The county is saying it’s playing a role in overcoming the challenges (the most challenging to serve people face). It’s huge,” said Lehman.