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'Perfect storm': Rose St. shelter preparing for full house this winter

'We are at the point where there’s a constant inflow to homelessness and poverty right now. Everybody is just struggling,' says Busby official

The doors of a temporary emergency overnight shelter officially opened to Barrie’s homeless population Wednesday night as the region gets ready for another winter right around the corner. 

Located at 20 Rose St., near Bayfield Street and Highway 400, it has space for up to 30 people this winter. It receives funding from the County of Simcoe through its "winter response" programming, with financial contribution from the City of Barrie.

Although the first night only saw 12 individuals utilize the facility, Busby Centre executive director Sara Peddle anticipates it won't be long before it, too, is at capacity. The Busby, which co-ordinates access to the Rose Street facility, also offers shelter beds at its Mulcaster Street location in downtown Barrie. 

“The shelters are over capacity and we have a lot of people … who are experiencing homelessness right now," she said. "We are trying to make sure that there is enough space during the winter months to get as many people in as possible so we need these spaces to make this happen."

The Rose Street shelter — which officially opened for the first time last winter on Dec. 23, 2022 — will be open from 6 p.m. until 10 a.m., seven days a week, until April 30, 2024.

During extreme weather and statutory holidays, it will remain open for people who are staying there. 

“We are at the point where there’s a constant inflow to homelessness and poverty right now. Everybody is just struggling," Peddle said. "We kind of have this perfect storm of housing crisis, mental health crisis, addiction crisis, economic crisis … There are just so many people that are just getting pushed into either homelessness or poverty and it’s just getting more and more devastating, to be honest.”

Even with the additional 40 beds and plans to expand at Busby’s location at 88 Mulcaster already in the works, Peddle admits she doesn’t know if there will ever be enough space to provide a bed to every person who needs one.

She believes the focus needs to be on creating housing solutions within the region. 

“Temporary solutions like drop-in centres, warming centres and shelters, as much as we need to be here right now because that is the emergency response," Peddle said. "I hope we can continue on getting everybody housed, because that’s obviously one of our main goals.

"With Busby, we are open every day and it’s packed in here," she added. "We are fortunate we were able to get some more space as we purchased our building here … but it’s one of those things where the numbers keep growing. So how do we make sure we are constantly getting as many people services as we can? It’s frustrating.”

The additional space will be used for people in need of shelter when all beds in other shelter settings are full and the operations will be run by the Busby Centre, said Wendy Hembruff, the county’s director of engagement and partnerships in the community services department.

The temporary shelter at the Rose Street site was very successful last winter, she noted, adding the county is happy to work with its partners to offer this solution again for Barrie and the surrounding communities. 

“It’s not just a location to stay warm and out of the elements," Hembruff said. "There are services on-site to help residents in need to support their progression to more stable living situations.

“We are also pleased to share that our four-month rapid rehousing pilot program, which ran spring to fall 2023 within this temporary building, helped 15 individuals to secure permanent housing," she added. "These are the goals of our 10 Point Homelessness Prevention Strategy, as we are building up lives and supporting our residents in need.”

The long-term plan for the county-owned property on Rose Street, which was the site of the former Barrie OPP detachment, is to develop a 176-unit, mixed-use building. Site preparation for the $217-million county project is planned to start in 2024. It will require the temporary modular buildings, which are used for the supportive housing and shelter programs, to be moved to another location, Hembruff said. Further details will be determined next year. 

Hayley Murdoch-Fyke, executive director with the John Howard Society of Simcoe Muskoka (JHSSM), said although the local social service agency is not involved with the operations at the Rose Street shelter, it does support many clients in the community experiencing homelessness.

“As the weather grows colder, I am happy that there will again be additional shelter beds available this winter in Barrie," she told BarrieToday. "However, with no overnight warming centre this year, we are extremely concerned about those people who are not able to access shelter for a variety of reasons including shelters being at capacity.

“Even with the additional beds at Rose Street, we were seeing 30 to 40 people a night at the warming centre last year," Murdoch-Fyke added. "The reality is that there are more people experiencing homelessness in the county than there are beds available, and many agencies are scared for the loss of lives that will happen this year due to exposure and weather-related health issues.”