Mayor forms committee to address men’s homelessness

April 29, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

While Orangeville has emergency shelter services for youth, women and children, the issue of men’s homelessness has not yet been addressed.

To take the first step in developing a solution to the problem, Mayor Sandy Brown brought forward a motion at a Council meeting on Monday (April 26) to form a Mayor’s Special Committee on Men’s Homelessness, with the goal of creating a men’s emergency shelter.

A delegation in support of the committee from Terrance Carter of Carters Law and Matthew McLean, Pastor of the Good Friends Fellowship Church, which operates a daily community meal program called the Lighthouse, have both seen the issue of men’s homeless impacting Orangeville firsthand and shared their stories.
“There’s a big hole and a problem to be fixed in our area,” said Mclean. “There is no 100 per cent proof foolproof plan to get everyone off the streets, but there are ways to improve dramatically.”

The Good Friends Fellowship Church began helping individuals who found themselves without a permanent address or lodging last year by putting them up in motels until the County of Dufferin, which runs some homelessness programs, could provide some assistance.

“The news of what we are doing began to spread in the community and soon we had to make some serious decisions on whether we would continue to take on more cases or not,” said McLean.

“Then we approached Teen Ranch and asked if they’d be willing to house some of our patrons there for a short time. I started off with, ‘this is probably a bad idea.’ and then I presented it, which is not a good way to do a pitch, but it went forward. Teen Ranch agreed and we’ve been housing men in that amazing location since late fall 2020.”

Since it launched, a total of 10 men have been housed there and other forms of support have been provided to many more.

The Lighthouse’s meal program currently serves about 25 people per day, which represents a vulnerable sector in Orangeville and the surrounding area. Through the program, Mclean said he’s had the opportunity to hear people’s stories, identify with their challenges, and sympathize with their pain.

During Carter’s delegation to Council, he said over the last seven years, he’s seen several men who are in need of an emergency shelter, often times in the back alley of his building.

His first encounter was with a man named Ben who was curled up in the corner behind Carters Law on 211 Broadway early in the morning at the end of October and was very cold, with nowhere to go. Given the situation, Carter put him up in a motel room and brought him over dinner that night, before connecting him with the County of Dufferin, which provided assistance in the short term.

McLean has been helping Ben more recently and said he use to wander the streets, lonely, talking to himself, but through the work done by volunteers of the Lighthouse, Ben now has his own apartment, works part time and is doing well.

“Another man’s story that’s quite touching too, he lived in a tent at Island Lake for three years and for three years, he had no bath or shower, and if you let that sink in for a little bit, that’s summer and winter,” said McLean.  

The man has since received help and now has his own apartment. He is safe and secure.

But there are many who face a similar struggle.

“One of our cases lived out of a storage unit here in Orangeville and they’ve been there for some time until he slipped in early spring on ice, cracking his head and ending up with some head trauma,” McLean recalled. “They’re still investigating further the severity of the damages and he is with us still right now presently, at Teen Ranch, part of the Lighthouse initiative.”

The last case McLean shared with Orangeville Council was about a young man in his early 30s with a wife and two kids who lost his job.

“His home and family life falls apart, he moves out, but with no income or supports around him to take care of his basic needs, he finds himself on the streets,” McLean noted. “He is with us at Teen Ranch. He has a job interview tomorrow [April 27], pray for him.”

Coun. Debbie Sherwood, who volunteers at the Orangeville Food Bank, said she offered a ride home to one of their clients and because he had no fixed address, he asked to be dropped off in the forest behind the industrial park area of town.

“It broke my heart. He had nowhere to go… and I thought to myself, how fortunate was I to have a home address to go to,” she remarked.

The agreement with Teen Ranch to house those who are homeless will continue for one more month, unless they cannot operate their summer programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so McLean is looking at alternatives going forward.

He noted that the Lighthouse’s efforts through Teen Ranch are great for short and midterm transitional housing but a permanent men’s emergency shelter is needed to truly address homelessness.

Another issue with the current system that supports homeless individuals is that while the County of Dufferin provides motel vouchers, they’re only given out to people who have been homeless for at least 14 days.

“That’s 14 days of on the streets with no fixed address and that’s really difficult sometimes,” said McLean. “It is difficult for the county, it’s difficult for us. It’s difficult for anyone that has seen it.”

When asked if the pandemic has worsened homelessness locally, McLean says it has but the issue has been growing for several years.

The next steps for the Mayor’s Special Committee on Men’s Homelessness are to develop a term of reference and put out a request for volunteers.

More information regarding the committee will be released as it becomes available.

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