BELLEVILLE – There have been three deaths in Toronto in the past month attributed to homelessness. There have been no deaths from lack of shelter in Belleville.
According to www.homelesshub.ca, a web-based research library for Canadian homeless resources, 511 people were living on the streets in Belleville as of 2010, while 955 were at risk of becoming homeless. Currently there are approximately 30 beds available in transitional and supportive housing with three homes run by the Hastings and Prince Edward County CMHA.
With Belleville’s high homeless population and the lack of places for people to go when the temperatures drop to dangerous levels, some feel a death from the elements is just a matter of time.
“We haven’t had a death….yet,” said former mayoral candidate Bill Glisky, who focused on poverty issues during his campaign. Also, as the former managing editor of the Intelligencer, he wrote many stories on poverty and homelessness.
“As a community, we need to recognize that this is something that could happen here and we need to put some better things in place,” he said.
“The city needs to come up with the next step. They now keep city buildings open until midnight. The next step would be to keep these places open all night long in emergency cases like extreme cold,” he said.
“This could be something as simple as the city reaching out to partner organizations like churches and telling them, ‘You open your doors we will help with things like blankets, funding and security.’ Those kind of initiatives are ones that other cities have taken on and that many charitable organizations are already doing on their own,” he said.
Last week when Belleville was issued an extreme cold weather alert, the city extended hours at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre on Cannifton Road and suggested people use public facilities such as the Belleville Public Library on Pinnacle Street as a warming centre.
The Salvation Army has a warm room on Pinnacle Street offering a hot meal and winter clothing. Bridge Street United Church’s program, Inn From The Cold, which opens on January 18, offers a similar program but these places are not open late into the night.
Executive Director of Hastings Canadian Mental Health Association Sandi Sidsworth says after these places close, many of the homeless move from place to place throughout the night.
“Many people couch-surf and stay with friends, hang out in warm spaces such as bank lobbies and stairwells in public buildings. A big majority of them go to coffee shops that are open 24 hours,” she said.
Sidsworth said a phone number for the Red Cross is given out at warming centres for housing emergencies when the Salvation Army and CMHA close.
“The Red Cross provides a one night stay, sometimes it is a in local shelter, and often they are given a voucher for a motel. CMHA will work with them to initiate a housing plan so that stay can be extended,” said Sidsworth. “We try to provide shelter locally because ideally plans work better if the client has a local support network but sometimes they are sent to a shelter in Kingston.”
Sidsworth agrees that this is not enough.
“I would love to see more transitional housing,” she said. “None of us are doing enough but it is unfair to point fingers. We all need to work together; there needs to be a collective voice.”
Warming Centres in Belleville
The emergency number for the Red Cross is 1-866-317-6544
The Belleville Public Library at 223 Pinnacle St. is open as a warming centre until 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 5 p.m. on Friday.
The Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre on Cannifton Road is open from 6 a.m. to midnight.
The Warm Room at the Salvation Army on Pinnacle street is open from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week and provides a hot meal and a place to warm up for a few hours. Blankets and winter clothing are available.
Hastings County branch of Ontario Works will also help with emergency shelter as well as provide hotel accommodations due to homelessness. These emergencies considered on case-by-case basis. Anyone who is in a homeless situation between 8:30 am – 4:30 pm should call 613-771-9630 or 1-866-414-0300 or report directly to the nearest Ontario Works office.