Funding verbally secured for Choices’ homeless shelter

November 25, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

Work is continuing for a men’s homeless shelter in Orangeville, with the intention of putting something in place before the worst of the winter sets in.

Choices Youth Shelter operated a shelter for homeless men from August to mid-October of this year in Orangeville, but had to close down due to a lack of funding.

Since its opening, which was made possible through a one-time anonymous donation, Choices chair Randy Narine has been working to secure long-term funding to get the men’s shelter back up and running, and says things are moving in a positive direction.

“Where we are right now is we have verbally secured funding through the County,” he told the Citizen.

“Now there’s a lot of hoops, you have to jump through to receive that funding from County because this funding comes from the federal and provincial government, it has nothing to do with the Town of Orangeville, as much money as they submit to county.”

Choices was initially hopeful it could receive one-time emergency funding from Town Council in September, to get them through the winter following positive conversations with Mayor Sandy Brown and councillors, but in the end the funding was denied. At the time, councillors said they felt addressing homelessness locally was outside their jurisdiction and it would be best to request the County deal with it.

Fortunately, all of the six men who received assistance during Choices’ operation of the men’s shelter reunited with their family or found support through another organization.

However, there are many more men in Dufferin County in need of assistance, and over the past few months, finding a suitable location to open the men’s shelter in permanently has been a primary focus for Narine.

“I have basically been dedicating my time since September till now, trying to locate the proper facility,” he told the Citizen.

“Now there’s a bunch of factors we have to work with, and one is zoning. So, there’s certain places in Orangeville that are zoned for this type of facility, and if we were to put it in an area that’s not zoned for it, then it’s a whole process with council where residents have the ability to kibosh the entire deal.”

Narine said in fairness, he understands why residents wouldn’t want a homeless shelter next door, due to the stigma associated with individuals who are unhoused.

For that reason, he’s been searching in areas of Orangeville that have the correct zoning for a homeless shelter. Townline is one of those areas, which Choices Youth Shelter is located, however the hot real estate market in Orangeville makes purchasing a suitable property difficult.

“The few times things have come up because of how hot the market is, it’s gone before I can do anything,” Narine noted.

Covenant Church as Location

However, there is some potentially good news with respect to securing a location.

Utilizing a section of Covenant Alliance Church, located at 3 Zina Street, has been offered as a solution, the only issue is that the property is owned by Orangeville Mayor Sandy Brown, so Narine says he’s concerned about a conflict of interest.

“It’s the whole part of taking public funds and providing it to an elected official,” he noted.

Narine told the Citizen he is exploring if a conflict of interest would apply here and Mayor Brown has already contacted the integrity commissioner of Dufferin County to get information on how and if the arrangement could move forward.

The Board at Choices is going to review that information tomorrow and will decide at that time how to proceed.

“We are exploring what conflict of interest really means with this whole endeavour right now because there’s a few other factors. Yes, the mayor would be getting revenue from this. Yes, it’s money coming from the provincial federal government, but the rate that he’s offering us is substantially less [than market value],” said Narine.

Apart from the conflict of interest, another key issue with the church property is that it requires several renovations to make it suitable.

“That’s going to add on time. It’s going to add on costs. But the homeless committee has said that there are members of their organization and members of the community that are willing to step forward to fund it,” Narine noted.

However, he said he wants to see a commitment in writing before moving forward.

“Without a commitment, it’s just talk in my eyes, especially after what I’ve gone through with the whole ordeal of trying to secure funding from Council,” said Narine. “I’ll be honest, I thought that was a sure thing, the way that they were saying it to me, and then it turned out it wasn’t. So, until someone comes to me with a cheque, it’s just talk.

“And I’m not trying to put that in a negative way. I’m just trying to be realistic about everything, especially with the experiences that I’ve had.”

Another possible problem with moving forward with the church is there are two other tenants currently renting it, one of which is an organized club with youth. Narine said he has concerns about the homeless men potentially interacting with the minors, as it creates liability problems.

“I’m not saying that something would happen, but I want to make sure nothing could happen,” Narine explained.  

However, there are benefits of utilizing the Covenant Alliance Church, as it has close proximity to downtown, which is important for getting homeless men access to banking, shopping, social services and appointments.

Although, the church is only available for 15 months, so it isn’t permanent, but if it’s the only option to operate a shelter for homeless men through the winter season and it’s legal to move forward, Narine said they will have to take it.

“I don’t want to get into a temporary shelter and then have to move again, but if that’s my only option to make this happen before winter, the end goal is really to help the homeless men that are out there,” Narine said.

“We are doing our due diligence with everything. We’re not trying to jump the gun on anything, even though we are under the gun before winter really hits. We just want to make sure it’s done properly.”

Narine says he will continue to look for other properties as well, in addition to exploring the church as an option, since purchasing a properly zoned property would be much more fruitful long-term then leasing the church for 15 months.

Motel Voucher Program

If the church falls through and no other property is found, Narine says staff at Dufferin County have said they’re increasing their motel voucher program, which pays for a motel or hotel room of a homeless person for a period of time.

“They said that as long as someone wants to get out of the cold in the winter – County will step up and help out,” Narine noted.

The only downside is one of the hotels who was participating in the program was purchased privately and no longer offers rooms for the program, so there are fewer options.

Narine told the Citizen he’ll have more information to share on the men’s shelter future following a meeting with the Choices Youth Shelter Board on Friday (Nov. 26).

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