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'Very powerful statement' made at lakeshore to highlight housing crisis

'We absolutely need housing. We’re done with providing people with tents and we need to provide them roofs,' says Busby Centre official

If you can’t picture what it would be like to displace 150 people from emergency sheltering, some local organizations have lined a busy Barrie street with tents to show you.

People driving Lakeshore Drive or taking their morning jog by the beach on Wednesday morning would have seen the line of tents that were put up this morning by the Elizabeth Fry Society Simcoe Muskoka, The Busby Centre, Ryan’s Hope, and many volunteers.

This was in response to the local organizations receiving notice to begin transitioning the emergency sheltering motel model currently operating at the Travelodge on Bayfield Street. 

Busby Centre executive director Sara Peddle said the community exhibit was set up to show people what it would be like to empty out the COVID emergency sheltering when there is nowhere to house anyone.

“We just don't have the capacity to meet the needs of the homeless crisis right now,” Peddle told BarrieToday at the site. “Unfortunately, as we depopulate that program, we are going to have approximately 100 to 150 people who won’t have a place to go.”

The exhibit was decided on in the last 36 hours and Peddle said it took the hard work of many helpers to get the tents up, starting this morning at 4:30 a.m., to when they will come down at around 11 a.m.

In the coming days and weeks, both the Busby Centre and the Elizabeth Fry Society, in collaboration with the County of Simcoe, City of Barrie, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and community service organizations, will be undergoing a period of planning and assessment to determine safe transition to home locations and possible undetermined secondary congregate locations that will accommodate overflow emergency shelter beds.

Peddle said that while it is about the emptying of the emergency shelters, it is about the overall situation as well.

“We absolutely need housing. We’re done with providing people with tents and we need to provide them roofs,” she said. “We really needed to show our community what the situation is going to look like if we don’t have a proper housing response. People deserve better and they deserve a roof over their head and it is time to really advocate to the provincial and federal governments that we need housing now.”

There is a meet-the-candidates 'accountability assembly' tonight for the provincial candidates running in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte (BSOM), which is being hosted by the Simcoe County Alliance To End Homelessness (SCATEH).

One person at this morning’s lakeshore event who may have questions for the candidates tonight was 33-year-old Alec Wilding. Wilding says he has been using Busby Centre services on and off for the last few years after having to leave an Alliston community service organization when a COVID outbreak occurred. He said the Busby Centre took many people in from that location.

“The economy crashed, COVID happened and the prices of everything went up and everything got real messy,” Wilding told BarrieToday. “The Busby has been a really great outreach, a great crutch for us who need it, to lean on. They’ve helped a lot of people stay off the streets and those who stay on the streets, they have helped out with needs.”

Wilding said this morning's exhibit is very powerful and he hopes it makes people want to force change.

“I got here this morning to help with signs and saw the huge lineup of tents. It's a very powerful statement, for sure,” he said. 

The Elizabeth Fry Society and the Busby Centre are providing emergency shelter to approximately 200 people each night, and helped a combined 1,100 unique individuals last year, more than double of what the organizations served pre-pandemic. 

As the province lifts pandemic restrictions, COVID funding allocations specific to sustaining the current hotel shelter model have been decreased and directives from public health, as it relates to operations of congregate settings, are being revised. 

Busby Centre and Elizabeth Fry Society officials say the cost to occupy the Travelodge in its entirety is not financially sustainable, therefore the shelter operators are required to seek alternate options to stretch available dollars for as long as possible.

Peddle said that's why the tents lining Lakeshore Drive aren’t just an exhibit.

“The Busby does provide tents to those living unsheltered, so we usually purchase them throughout the year, but figured we better grab a lot now,” Peddle said. “When this exhibit is done, we’ll take them down and start to get them out to people who need them.”

According to the statement today by the Busby Centre and Elizabeth Fry Society, the 2022 Homelessness Enumeration Preliminary Report indicates that 50 percent of the 722 people surveyed that were experiencing homelessness were residing in the city of Barrie. 

The report adds that 70 percent of those surveyed were experiencing chronic homelessness, defined as being homeless at least six of the last 12 months and/or at least two episodes of homelessness totalling at least 1.5 of the last three years.

The Busby Centre is providing overnight accommodation at their 88 Mulcaster St. location for up to 10 individuals each night and families experiencing homelessness at another location. The Busby DETOUR Outreach Team is also supporting more than 25 individuals per day in the community who are already living unsheltered and diverting individuals coming from other communities daily with warm transfers back to their origin community or other supports to avoid adding more individuals to an already over capacity system of care. 

Maximum available bed space capacity is 42 combined at home locations of both agencies (17 at Elizabeth Fry Society and 25 at Busby Centre) with current Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures in place, leaving over 150 individuals (not inclusive of new intakes or those already experiencing unsheltered homelessness) without safe access to shelter if an alternate solution is not presented by June 30 of this year.