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Is downtown Barrie getting warming centre for the homeless?

'Time is of the essence… as the temperatures drop,' says councillor
2021-10-29 Natalie Harris 5
Coun. Natalie Harris represents Ward 6.

A downtown warming centre is in the works for Barrie’s homeless.

City councillors gave initial approval Monday night to a motion requesting the County of Simcoe to work with the Gilbert Centre and the John Howard Society to establish a warming centre in downtown Barrie. This may include requests for direct and/or augmented social service funding if needed, and could also assist with any future overflow from current shelter service providers due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Coun. Natalie Harris said talks are already in progress involving the county which is responsible for social housing-related services within Barrie, including funding  and the two agencies, which came forward and offered their services, she said.

“Time is of the essence… as the temperatures drop,” Harris said. “I want a place for the homeless to be able to go and get warm when the temperature drops below a certain temperature, and make it accessible for anyone that needs to go into that area.”

“My understanding is the shelter providers have their hands full and more,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said, “and the two organizations listed here did step forward after it was clear that the shelter providers would not be able to support it (a warming centre). They were really self-selected.”

Shelters in Barrie include the Busby Centre, Salvation Army, Elizabeth Fry Society, and Youth Haven.

Harris said a warming centre location has not been selected, but that could change.

“There’s a location already available. Nothing is firm yet, but… we may have a warming centre location,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s taken too long, in my opinion, to even get to this stage. So we’re almost into December and we’re at step one.

“I think it’s important for the county to hear that the city council of Barrie, the city that has the largest homeless population right now, that we do stand united in making sure that we find funding if necessary to bring a warming centre to our city," Harris added.

The Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (SCATEH) enumeration of November 2020 showed 563 people, 82 per cent of them single, were experiencing homelessness. And that 49 per cent, or 276 people, were in Barrie.

As temperatures have fallen, Harris has expressed concerns about sheltering the homeless in winter, and that there’s no warming centre at Barrie’s bus terminal anymore.