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County comes through with cash to help homeless in Barrie

'There needs to be enough time to ensure that people won't be forced out on the street who cannot survive without medical or social services,' says Barrie mayor
2020-03-11 County JO-002
County of Simcoe council chambers. | Jessica Owen/BarrieToday files

Simcoe County council has stepped up to help fund the transition out of the emergency motel shelter model for the homeless.

Council approved a motion Tuesday to provide support for this transition with as much as $800,000  to augment the county allocation of $400,000 from the provincial pandemic social service relief funding already committed to the shelter operators in the temporary motel shelter model in Barrie.

This additional allocation brings the county’s commitment for the transition period to $1.2 million, with a further contribution of $400,000 from Barrie city council Monday night, totalling $1.6 million.

“The additional funding… will go a long way towards ensuring our vulnerable population remains safe and continues to be able to access the supports they need during this transitionary period,” said Simcoe County Warden George Cornell.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said he’s pleased and grateful that county councillors approved the city’s request for additional transition funding. 

“While we understand the hotel model must end, there needs to be enough time to ensure that people won't be forced out on the street who cannot survive without medical or social services,” Lehman said. “This funding will support providing some of these services on a short-term basis as longer-term solutions are found and, hopefully, some additional shelter capacity can be created, as the charitable shelter providers exit the hotel model.”

As there are more individuals than can be accommodated within shelter capacity within the city, according to the county, its staff will continue ongoing planning with shelter operators, partners and the City of Barrie to identify appropriate solutions for increased temporary shelter solutions for homeless residents.

“It is important to us as a council to keep all of our residents as safe and healthy as possible and that is why (on Tuesday) we agreed to extend funding through the county’s social services reserve fund to maintain the level of support that is required as we transition supports away from the emergency motels shelter model,” Cornell said.

The temporary emergency motel shelter model program began in March 2020 as a direct response to the needs of the homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic; shelters reduced their capacity or closed due to health and safety requirements.

The temporary program was fully funded by both the provincial and federal governments, with funding supporting activities to transition from the temporary program in line with the province’s Re-Opening of Ontario Act.

In 2022, the average cost for the motel model was $850,000 per month  including motel costs, staffing and program expenses  to run the program at the Barrie motel location.

It housed as many as 140 to 175 individuals nightly. The motel program recently received a temporary extension to July 15 (from June 30) to permit additional time for planning.

In 1998, the province determined Simcoe County would plan, administer funding and manage certain services to Barrie — including housing and homelessness prevention.

Barrie’s 2022 operating budget documents show the city is paying the County of Simcoe just more than $5 million this year for non-profit social housing and $2.2 million to the Simcoe County Housing Corporation. City treasurer Craig Millar has said $7.2 million is Barrie’s contribution to the county’s social housing efforts this year.