Barrie shelters seek permanent solution as emergency shelter program nears its end

Shelters in Barrie are seeking a long-term solution, as an emergency hotel shelter program funded by upper governments, nears its end (Katelyn Wilson/CTV News).

Two Barrie-based shelters are searching for a long-term solution as the end looms for a provincially-funded emergency shelter program.

Funding for the hotel emergency shelter program was set to expire on June 30, but the Elizabeth Fry Society Simcoe Muskoka and Busby Centre have been granted a two-week extension.

"Now we are trying to transition back to our home locations, unfortunately the need has increased throughout the pandemic," said Sara Peddle, executive director of The Busby Centre. "It's scary to think about what's to come if we don't have a solution."

The program was created as a pandemic measure, helping to house hundreds of people experiencing homelessness.

The two shelters provide emergency shelter to about 170 people in home and hotel locations.

But the combined bed capacity will drop to 62 beds without the hotel model, leaving 108 people without safe access to a shelter.

"We are seeing people coming from areas that are shutting down these models without a proper transition plan and it's devastating to see that people are being displaced everywhere," said Peddle. "We are looking for an alternative location that won't be as costly as the hotel, it has served its purpose, but we are looking at another solution."

At the cost of $850,000 per month and with no additional funding from the province, the county is offering to help find a solution until the end of the year by reallocating what's left of the existing funds.

"That model is not sustainable and we certainly do recognize the need for ongoing supports through a secondary site," said Simcoe County's director of community programs, Wendy Hembruff.

Ultimately, Peddle said it comes down to the high cost of rent and lack of affordable housing that increases demand.

"These are broken systems in our country and our province and the people are the collateral damage which is the terrible part," said Peddle.

A church in Barrie has offered to help as a temporary overnight space, but nothing has been finalized. As the county explores that and other options, the goal is to have a plan in place by July 15.