Men’s homelessness and lessons learned

February 17, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

Across the country, more and more communities are facing homelessness challenges. Since the late 90s homelessness has increased across the country and as the numbers grow so does our knowledge and understanding of the root causes and the impacts experienced by all members of the community.  Homelessness and poverty reduction are among the largest problems we have in the Town of Orangeville Council created a Men’s Homelessness Committee, which met from July 2021 thru January 2022. During the Committee’s term, we met biweekly and received information from a variety of stakeholders.   We also commissioned a needs analysis by the University of Guelph’s Research Shop. 

The Committee heard from speakers who gave us powerful examples of the lived experience of homelessness in their families. Homelessness can encompass a wide range of circumstances from living on the streets, staying overnight in emergency shelters or the “hidden” homeless living temporarily with friends, family or in motels. Homelessness is not a choice; it affects people from all income brackets, all ages, education levels and backgrounds.

A significant number of the homeless are struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as a range of physical illnesses. Some experience these problems before becoming homeless, while others experience them as a result of homelessness. Homelessness can also promote poor mental health through feelings of fear, anxiety and isolation, which can lead to depression and lack of sleep. Canada’s homeless population is incredibly diverse.   

Homelessness is a multi-faceted problem that all levels of government are working on. Our Fire, Police and Paramedic services also assist when they respond to a call for service of someone in crisis. Mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic breakup, loss of employment and the affordable housing crisis are some of the contributing factors to homelessness.

Dufferin County keeps a “By Name List” of those people who are in crisis with respect to housing.  Weekly, Dufferin County hosts a Coordinated Access Table meeting where each person on the by name list is discussed and the many social services stakeholders who attend these meetings determine the best course and who should take the lead on the individual case.   

A Men’s Shelter is a place where someone is given a bed to sleep and a meal. There is a stigma attached to shelters because the residents often are in crisis and sometimes act out. Everyone who is in a shelter needs some sort of assistance to help them get out of the crisis they are in.

During one of our meetings – we learned from Anna McGregor, Dufferin County’s Director of Community Services – that what our area really needs, more than a shelter, is a “Crisis Care Bed Facility”

This type of facility is funded by Ontario Health and provides a deeper level of programming to help the residents. We learned the S.H.I.P. (Services and Housing in the Province) is an organization that runs such facilities in Brampton and Mississauga. 

Recently, Homelessness Committee members Councillors Debbie Sherwood, Joe Andrews and I met with S.H.I.P CEO Lesley Nagoda and CFO Thomas DiCarlo. We learned that an 8-bed facility would be appropriate for our region.   Headwaters Healthcare includes Northern Caledon. Dufferin and Northern Caledon residents would benefit from such a facility.    The operational costs of such a facility are covered by Ontario Health.  

In our meeting Feb 14 2022 – Town Council passed a motion to appropriate the Fire Hall at 10 Dawson Rd for a Crisis Care Bed Facility. It is necessary to put a pin in the map – for the higher-level approval process to begin.  It is likely that the Town of Orangeville will remain as owners of the property and lease the required space to S.H.I.P. The current Fire Hall has sleeping quarters, kitchen facilities, shower facilities, offices, and a common area in place. Therefore, the required services are already in place on the second floor for a future conversion. The Fire Hall is in an excellent geographic location – across the road from Dufferin County Social Services, a grocery store, the future Transit Hub and walking distance to Downtown amenities such as the Library.   

Councilors Sherwood and Andrews gave a presentation to Dufferin County Council. The presentation was universally praised by all member municipalities. We will be seeking letters of support from local municipal governments and the County to help with the Provincial application.

I have also spoken to Mayor Allan Thompson of Caledon who expressed his support of the project. We hope to make a presentation to Town of Caledon Council in the coming weeks to ask for their support as well.  

Recapping – a Crisis Care Bed Facility provides a deeper level of resources than a Shelter. The kind of help that those in crisis need to help them get back on the straight and narrow. S.H.I.P. CEO Lesley Nagoda reports that they have a very high level of success with their programs in Brampton and Mississauga. Just putting a roof over someone’s head does not resolve their issues – we need to help them deal with whatever issues are confronting them to help them get properly housed and out of crisis.

We have also been working with Habitat for Humanity and have identified an acre of land at the back of the Fire Hall property for a possible Habitat Build project. We will continue to work with Habitat and other developers of Affordable Housing to try and increase supply.

Governments at all levels need to take initiative to help resolve the housing crisis. Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful organization and I look forward to strapping on my tool belt and putting on my hard hat to help with an Orangeville Habitat for Humanity Build Project.   

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