‘We never give up’

Help­ing the city’s home­less find lodg­ing can some­times be prob­lem­atic on both sides

The Barrie Examiner - - FRONT PAGE - CH­ERYL BROWNE A con­cerned res­i­dent who lives nearby stops to check on Heather MacEwan, a 65-year-old wheel­chair-bound woman who has been liv­ing alone for days out­side the for­mer Bar­rie Cen­tral Col­le­giate.

Heather MacEwan sits in her urine-soaked wheel­chair ask­ing for help from a stranger.

The 65-year-old woman, of no fixed ad­dress, is sur­rounded by all of her worldly be­long­ings in front of the old W.A. Fisher Au­di­to­rium at the for­mer Bar­rie Cen­tral Col­le­giate in down­town Bar­rie on Wed­nes­day when a Good Sa­mar­i­tan drops in to check on her.

“I saw her on Sun­day and I’ve called the po­lice and the City of Bar­rie to see what can be done,” said the woman, who asked her name not be used, but added she lives on High Street and was con­cerned to see the home­less woman in the same spot three days later. “I’m dis­gusted she’s still here,” she said.

MacEwan says she has been in Bar­rie since early sum­mer and that she spent “some time” in Hamil­ton, too.

Her corn­flower blue eyes ap­peal to her lis­ten­ers, of whom there have been much and many, about her med­i­cal needs that rack her short, stout frame that’s curled up side­ways in the rick­ety chair.

Her wish list is long and un­wieldy. She wants to use a wash­room, badly, but can’t get there on her own in a bro­ken wheel­chair.

She says she wants a warm place to stay, but not the hos­pi­tal be­cause she’s been there and they use bleach which in­ter­feres with her breath­ing.

She wants a wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble place to live, but not near men, smok­ers, peo­ple do­ing drugs, the list goes on.

She said she has le­gal is­sues, com­plex med­i­cal con­di­tions and no fam­ily to speak of.

Yet when she does smile, she’s been de­scribed as “ev­ery­body’s grand­mother” as some­one who is old, sick and needs a warm place to stay with fall ap­proach­ing.

“I’ve been ac­cused of de­clin­ing places, but a lot of places are de­clin­ing me be­cause they’re not able to take me,” MacEwan said.

MacEwan said both the Women and Chil­dren’s Shel­ter and El­iz­a­beth Fry So­ci­ety aren’t suit­able for her re­quire­ments.

A David Busby Street Cen­tre worker, who also re­fused to give her name, ap­proached MacEwan on Wed­nes­day to of­fer as­sis­tance.

Con­cerns about con­tra­ven­ing the prov­ince’s pri­vacy laws lead both Bar­rie po­lice and the Busby cen­tre’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Sara Ped­dle to speak mostly hy­po­thet­i­cally about home­less peo­ple who refuse help.

“We never give up,” Ped­dle said on Thurs­day. “Some­times it looks to the com­mu­nity like noth­ing ’s be­ing done, but work is be­ing done even if it doesn’t ap­pear to be.”

Ped­dle said although she can’t speak di­rectly about MacEwan, she would say she presently has a roof over her head.

While tech­ni­cally MacEwan had a roof over her head when she sat un­der the awning in front of W.A. Fisher Au­di­to­rium, she wasn’t there on Thurs­day.

Stymied by pri­vacy laws, Ped­dle said the Busby cen­tre works with men­tal-health providers, so­cial agen­cies and po­lice un­der the Col­lab­o­rate Bar­rie hub that gath­ers reg­u­larly to dis­cuss ur­gent so­cial ser­vices re­quire­ments.

Busby is also work­ing on a Hous­ing First strat­egy, copied from agen­cies across Canada, the United States and United King­dom to find what Ped­dle calls the “high­est acu­ity in­di­vid­u­als” or those most in need, hous­ing, and then di­rects a case man­ager to deal specif­i­cally with their health and men­tal-health needs.

“We have 26 peo­ple in the pro­gram and we’re help­ing them man­age their lives a lit­tle bet­ter,” she said.

How­ever, part of the dif­fi­culty MacEwan faces is that her men­tal­health chal­lenges pre­vent her from ac­cept­ing help when it’s of­fered.

Bar­rie’s Lucy Pinho, one of its well-known cit­i­zens who lived be­hind the TD Bank on Col­lier Street on an eight-by-10-foot grate, died Aug. 8, 2014.

Pinho strug­gled with men­tal­health is­sues and re­fused to ven­ture in­side build­ings and churches (for Bar­rie’s Out of the Cold pro­gram) and chose to sleep out­side dur­ing the harsh­est win­ter months.

She died dur­ing the sum­mer, two weeks af­ter a fence was erected to keep her from liv­ing on the grate.

Less than a month ago, a 39-yearold woman’s body was dis­cov­ered at Dy­ment’s Pond.

Although the ex­act cause of death was un­clear from the post-mortem re­sults re­leased the first week of Septem­ber, po­lice said her death was not sus­pi­cious.

A source who knows a lit­tle more about MacEwan’s last few months in Bar­rie said other im­pov­er­ished peo­ple would “jump at the chance” to have the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented to MacEwan that she has re­fused.

Bar­rie po­lice are also stay­ing mum about how much or of­ten they’ve at­tended to the se­nior’s plight.

“I am aware of the sit­u­a­tion, but out of re­spect, pri­vacy and trust con­cerns for her, I can’t of­fer you in­for­ma­tion on what type of in­volve­ment po­lice have had with an in­di­vid­ual,” said Sgt. Toni Du­four.

Po­lice can en­force tres­pass­ing laws and mu­nic­i­pal by­laws and in­ter­vene un­der the Cana­dian Men­tal Health Act, she said.

“If we need to, we can ap­pre­hend a per­son if they face a safety risk and we be­lieve they are un­able to care for them­selves,” Du­four said.

But she said po­lice are re­luc­tant to lay charges and force a per­son to go through the ju­di­cial sys­tem un­less all other op­tions have been ex­hausted.

“What I can say is that there are many ser­vices avail­able in Bar­rie that of­fer help to in­di­vid­u­als in need, from hous­ing con­cerns to per­sonal safety is­sues,” Du­four said.

“Po­lice and hu­man ser­vice providers work col­lab­o­ra­tively to en­sure that peo­ple know what is avail­able to them, how­ever it us up to the per­son to ac­cept it,” she added.

Help could be on the way provin­cially, but it may ar­rive too late to help MacEwan.

A pri­vate mem­ber’s bill was pre­sented at Queen’s Park by NDP Leader An­drea Hor­wath, ap­peal­ing for a new men­tal-health and ad­dic­tions stand-alone min­istry.

“It has be­come clear that the men­tal-health care needs and the ad­dic­tion needs of peo­ple in the prov­ince have not been taken care of,” Hor­wath said at Queen’s Park ear­lier this week. “Too many peo­ple are fall­ing through the cracks, too many peo­ple are in cri­sis, too many kids are wait­ing 18 months for treat­ment.

“It’s not ac­cept­able, and the best way to put that fo­cus in place is to have a sep­a­rate min­istry,” she said.

MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

A frus­trated Heather MacEwan, 65, who has been liv­ing alone for days out­side the for­mer Bar­rie Cen­tral Col­le­giate in the city’s down­town, says she has no place to go that can ac­com­mo­date her.

MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

MARK WANZEL/PHOTO

A frus­trated Heather MacEwan, who has been liv­ing alone for days out­side the for­mer Bar­rie Cen­tral Col­le­giate in the city’s down­town, says she has no place to go that can ac­com­mo­date her.

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