Home­less ser­vice to change

County com­mit­tee rec­om­mends new op­er­a­tor for emer­gency pro­gram

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - FRONT PAGE - LUKE HENDRY

Staff of Hast­ings County and the Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion are on the verge of form­ing a new part­ner­ship to pre­serve an after-hours emer­gency home­less­ness pro­gram.

The county’s com­mu­nity and hu­man ser­vices rec­om­mended Wednesday county coun­cil di­rect $69,000 in pro­vin­cial fund­ing to the CMHA’s Hast­ings and Prince Ed­ward branch. If ap­proved by coun­cil, as­so­ci­a­tion staff would be­gin op­er­at­ing the pro­gram start­ing Jan. 1.

After-hours emer­gency re­quests from peo­ple seek­ing shel­ter are cur­rently routed to a cen­tral Cana­dian Red Cross dis­patcher. Red Cross vol­un­teers then re­spond to the re­quests.

But in May, Red Cross of­fi­cials gave no­tice they’ll dis­con­tinue the ser­vice Dec. 31 after de­cid­ing it didn’t fit with their man­date, said Erin Rivers, the county’s direc­tor of com­mu­nity and hu­man ser­vices.

“They did an awe­some job,” she said, adding the CMHA’s pro­posed pro­gram would “be very sim­i­lar.”

She said the as­so­ci­a­tion is a log­i­cal provider of the ser­vice. Its staff op­er­ate four tran­si­tional homes in Belleville for peo­ple at risk of be­ing home­less and are busy ad­vo­cates for af­ford­able hous­ing and on re­lated is­sues.

“They’re real champions in our com­mu­nity,” Rivers said.

“They do have that ex­pe­ri­ence, that lo­cal ex­per­tise to deal with the is­sues” faced by peo­ple who’re home­less, she said.

“We al­ready have a great part­ner­ship.”

Rivers said the county re­ceives an av­er­age of 30 emer­gency re­quests a month, ei­ther dur­ing its usual week­day op­er­at­ing hours or those redi­rected to the Red Cross. That num­ber, how­ever, does not re­flect the pro­gram’s full reach, since a fam­ily is counted as a sin­gle case.

As with the Red Cross, she said, CMHA staff would han­dle re­quests made be­tween 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. plus week­ends and hol­i­days. Their work will be funded as be­fore by On­tario’s Com­mu­nity Home­less­ness Preven­tion Ini­tia­tive.

Rivers said she hopes as­so­ci­a­tion work­ers will be able to help get to the root causes of clients’ sit­u­a­tions “as op­posed to just deal­ing with the crises as they arise.”

Lo­cal CMHA ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Sandie Sidsworth said she and her team may be able to re­fer peo­ple to other ser­vices, such as addictions treat­ment.

Whomever is on duty af­ter­hours will take calls di­rectly from clients, she said, with no need for a dis­patcher.

The as­so­ci­a­tion has 10 full-time em­ploy­ees and one part-time. The part-timer and three col­leagues are as­signed to hous­ing is­sues, she said.

Sidsworth said their work will sim­ply be ex­tended to cover more hours. She said she and hous­ing man­ager Joan Gau­thier will staff the emer­gency pro­gram for about the first three months.

After that, she added, “We will prob­a­bly look to hire some­one on a part-time ba­sis.” Sup­port staff will also fill shifts. Sidsworth said she also plans to pro­pose the as­so­ci­a­tion’s Mau­rice Rollins Hope Cen­tre be used as an emer­gency warm­ing sta­tion. It’s a liv­ing room-style area of the Oc­tavia Street of­fice.

The idea has yet to be dis­cussed for­mally with city staff, how­ever.

“It seems to make sense that if there’s been a cold ad­vi­sory is­sued, we can stay open all night,” Sidsworth said. “They won’t have a place to sleep, but they’ll have a place to keep warm.”

She said staff and vol­un­teers are al­ready will­ing to make it hap­pen.

“It’s all about try­ing to fill the cracks that ex­ist,” she said. “We know how many peo­ple we’re turn­ing away. I’ve han­dled three calls to­day. That’s part of the frus­tra­tion.

“We’re the ones that are hear­ing peo­ple weep on the phone when they haven’t got a place to live.”

Should county coun­cil ap­prove the part­ner­ship, Rivers said, it will be a one-year con­tract with the po­ten­tial for re­newal.

County coun­cil will vote Oct. 26 on the pro­posed con­tract.

LUKE HENDRY/THE IN­TEL­LI­GENCER

Ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Sandie Sidsworth sits in the Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion's Mau­rice Rollins Hope Cen­tre Wednesday in Belleville. The as­so­ci­a­tion has been rec­om­mended as the new provider of the after-hours emer­gency home­less­ness pro­gram in Hast­ings County.

LUKE HENDRY/THE IN­TEL­LI­GENCER

Hast­ings County direc­tor Erin Rivers, aided by com­mit­tee chair­man Gar­net Thomp­son, un­veils a sign list­ing her depart­ment's val­ues at a meet­ing Wednesday in Belleville. She an­nounced a po­ten­tial new part­ner­ship with the Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion.

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