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Simcoe’s homeless shelters adapt under the threat of COVID-19

June 4, 2020   ·   0 Comments

As the novel coronavirus started to spread in Simcoe County, its homeless shelters had to find alternative ways to support individuals who are struggling, without putting them at risk.

Almost all of Simcoe’s shelters couldn’t allow for adequate physical distancing within their buildings, so on March 20 the County authorized funding to support them in relocating and housing their occupants in motels throughout the region.

At any given time, there’s an average of 212–230 individuals currently housed in motels throughout Simcoe County.

“From an ethical perspective, it’s always important to support vulnerable populations and certainly, within the context of this pandemic, it’s really called for enhanced efforts and some more collective efforts towards securing the safety of individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness,” said Jan Janssen, Simcoe County’s Director of Children and Community Services.

“We’ve had no C-19 outbreaks in any of the sheltering programs and I think that speaks volumes about the work these agencies are doing,” she added.

“We all know the critical importance of physical distancing as a key measure in our collective efforts to protect against the spread of the virus at the community level.”

Janssen said the use of motel rooms for homeless individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic has been cited as a best practice by public health.

The Federal and Provincial Government have both provided funding to Simcoe County for extra costs related to social services. From March 20–May 8, just under $500,000 was spent on the motel model, while $410,000 a month is expected to be spent going forward.

In addition to the cost of the motel rooms, Simcoe County is also funding 24/7 staffing on site to provide security, counselling, and enhanced sanitization to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t spread internally.

“We’re working really closely with colleagues to ensure residents have access to both physical and mental health supports and services while they’re on site in the motel facilities,” Janssen explained.

Barrie Community Health Centre, the Canadian Mental Health Association, public health units, and area paramedics are doing weekly on-site, health checks for residents staying in the motel under the shelter system.

Meanwhile, those who still have a roof over their head but are struggling to make rent payments can apply to Simcoe County’s ongoing Rent Retention Program. It can assist residents with rent, hydro, and other essential bill payments.

If the public wishes to assist vulnerable and homeless individuals who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 crisis, Janssen said donating to their local food bank or shelter is a great place to start.

“I think most of the service providers and certainly sheltering programs are going full out, are maxed in responding to the day to day challenges involved in operating their programs in a different location,” she said.

“They’re working to keep people safe, working to move them towards greater levels of independence and ultimately trying to get them into permanent housing, as they’re able.”

Studies show the cost to taxpayers is cut in half when homeless people are placed in public or supportive housing instead of a homeless shelter, which is primarily due to extra staffing costs.

The usual fundraising that would take place for food banks and homeless shelters across Simcoe County can’t go forward due to safety issues around COVID-19, creating an even greater economic strain for those non-profit organizations.

However, the community has strongly banded together over the last few months to ensure no one is getting left behind, Janssen noted.

“I would just really like to emphasize that we’ve witnessed some incredible acts of kindness and courage and empathy,” she said.

“The work of the community, especially at the partner levels with our health partners, it’s just been absolutely phenomenal, and what I see across the community is people trying to be part of a solution and it’s really heart warming.”

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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