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'It's driving us mad': Autistic man desperately hunts for housing

Robert Orr-Duncan and his mother among those evicted from Barrie hotel; Salvation Army says it has made progress in finding temporary accommodations
A roadside sign at the Days Inn hotel on Hart Drive in Barrie.

Robert Orr-Duncan doesn't know where to turn next — and he doesn't have much time, either.

The 35-year-old autistic man is one of several people being evicted from the Days Inn on Hart Drive in Barrie as space provided for an emergency shelter program comes to an end.

Orr-Duncan, along with his diabetic mother, who also has mobility issues and is facing foot surgery, have been in the Salvation Army program this year after being evicted from their previous apartment in Barrie.

He said the waiting lists for long-term social housing can be years long.

“It’s driving us mad."

The Salvation Army Barrie Bayside Mission says it has made progress in acquiring temporary accommodations for families that are part of their Emergency Family Shelter Program and who are being evicted from the Hart Drive hotel, located near Dunlop Street and Highway 400.

The short-term, 30-day housing program will no longer have space allocated in the hotel as of Friday, Dec. 1.

"(We are) pleased to share that we have secured and made available temporary accommodations for families that are part of our Emergency Family Shelter Program," Glenn van Gulik, the Salvation Army’s divisional secretary for public relations, told BarrieToday in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

“The Salvation Army continues to journey with individuals and families struggling to secure long-term housing and we understand the complexities of finding affordable housing in Barrie," he added. “We remain an innovative partner along with other community agencies and all levels of government to address housing needs."

These moves come after the hotel manager said on Monday they want to return to its regular business after helping several local homeless people through the Salvation Army's shelter program.

“We had taken on Busby (Centre) and Salvation (Army clients) during the pandemic, like all the other hotels in town,” the Days Inn manager, signed only as John, said in the email to BarrieToday. “Now it’s time to operate as a hotel again."

The hotel operators also shared a video of some of the damage in one of the rooms they say was caused by one of the people in the program.

Meanwhile, both Orr-Duncan and his mother utilize therapy dogs, which are West Highland terriers. One of the dogs is trained to lay on his mother and monitors her heart and blood pressure. If the dog senses any irregularities, it will reach out and paw at them, he told BarrieToday.

The dogs are currently being boarded, as they were not allowed to keep them at the Days Inn hotel after the ownership change from a Quality Inn to the current owner, at the beginning of November. 

Orr-Duncan said they have paid for the month of November to keep the dogs at the boarding facility. The dogs are due to be sent back to him tomorrow (Dec. 1), as the facility has already been booked for the month of December and is full.

He has said he's unsure of his next steps.

“I don’t know where I’m going to be, and I’ll have the dogs with me on the street or something,” Orr-Duncan said. “We need a place that is wheelchair accessible. (Most) places are basement apartments, and we are on a wait list for social housing with accessibility."

The city has been struggling to house people experiencing homelessness this year as winter weather creeps in.

A temporary emergency overnight shelter recently opened to Barrie’s homeless population as the region gets ready for another winter.

The north-end shelter, located at 20 Rose St., near Bayfield Street and Highway 400, will be open from 6 p.m. until 10 a.m., seven days a week, until April 30, 2024. It has space for up to 30 people this winter. During extreme weather and statutory holidays, it will remain open for people who are staying there.

The Busby Centre, a community not-for-profit organization in Barrie, serves approximately 125 to 150 individuals within a 24-hour period at their 88 Mulcaster St. location, and plans to expand its shelter operations into an adjacent building at 90 Mulcaster St.

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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