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Orangeville Homeless Committee Supports Men’s Shelter

Orangeville Men's Homelessness Committee Supportive of New Men's Shelter

“I don’t want the same men’s shelter in Dufferin County that the GTA has,” says Randy Narine, Chair of Choices Youth Shelter. “I live here, and I want to see the best for Dufferin County.”

On August 12, 2021, Orangeville’s Men’s Homelessness Committee received a delegation from Randy Narine regarding Choices’ announcement of the men’s shelter earlier that week. Narine shared how Choices Youth Shelter recently expanded to providing refuge to men, in addition to its original mandate of youth ages 16 to 24. He delineated the requirements for providing housing, counselling, and transitional services to men that are akin to what the organization is currently providing to youths. Narine also outlined the synergies derived from Choices managing both the men’s and youth shelters, including cost savings and expedited access to charity status.

“Everything you’ve done is incredible,” pronounced Orangeville’s Mayor Sandy Brown. “Your bold initiative is what we needed here in Orangeville, and we thank you for what you’ve done.”

Mayor Brown explained how the committee would need to ‘recalibrate’ its objectives and work collaboratively with Choices to ensure success.

“This is just an unbelievable answer,” voiced Terrance Carter, committee member and managing partner of Carter & Associates. “Thank you for the initiative that you’re taking with your board.”

Randy Narine, volunteer firefighter for the Shelburne Fire Department, in addition to doing the job full-time in the GTA, moved to Shelburne eight years ago. He has been the Chair of Choices Shelter for the past four and has been working with at-risk youths and those experiencing homelessness for over twelve.  He told how the men’s shelter has been in Choice’s plan for a while, as it was noticed many single men in the area, even those free of addiction and mental health issues ‘with actual decent jobs’, were struggling and on the brink of being homeless. Narine also remarked that the number of people showing up at Choices has been ‘astronomical,’ and they are fully aware that there’s a homeless population building in Orangeville.

“I don’t know how this came about, but a lot of homeless men from the GTA started making their way up to Orangeville about two years ago,” explained Narine. “They were being put in cabs from places like Wilkinson Shelter in Brampton and being shipped up here, being told that there’s a homeless shelter available in Orangeville.”

Narine describes that the lack of refuge for men results in these people being “bounced around between the different social systems” and doesn’t know where they “started off or ended up” because Choices could not accommodate them. However, attempts to assist were said to have been made.

“There’s a band-aid fix that’s out there right now, and it’s not working,” says Narine, who claims that operators of motels have attempted to kick out homeless men temporarily housed there through social services. “Just giving someone a place to stay temporarily and not supervising or giving them the help they need, it’s not getting anywhere. It’s actually becoming worse.”

During the pandemic, Narine stated that the pervasiveness of single men being on the brink of homelessness captured his attention again during the pandemic while running a separate program in Shelburne where he assists at-risk families. He then revealed how Choices had two vacant houses as they experienced ‘a drastic decline’ in youth attending due to COVID and other restrictions.

“A lot of the youth have their strong views on COVID, which I’m not going to get into,” said Narine. “But that made them not want to stay at the shelter.”

Although the house was vacant, Choices is committed to a lease until this upcoming October with the option to renew. Narine decided to take advantage of the opportunity and repurposed the facility into a men’s shelter.

“I had this shelter up and running within a week,” says Narine. “It doesn’t take much.”

Randy Narine discussed how a private donor stepped up to cover the start-up costs and that he had posted a request on social media for the public donation of beds and furniture. Furthermore, Narine had to rewrite the organization’s policies to serve its new clientele.

“The policies we have for the youth translates over easily into adults,” declared Narine, as Choices Youth Shelter supports people up to 24 years old. “Really, once you hit 19, anything over that you’re an adult technically-speaking.”

As of the August 12 presentation, Narine said seven men had been referred to the new shelter. Three by Dufferin County, two through social media, and two by the John Howard society. The referrals from the John Howard Society could not be housed as it would have required Choices to take them in bond, which the organization cannot do currently. Narine stated that men being sent to motels are also in need of more appropriate accommodations. Presently, Choices has three beds available for men in need of a place to stay. Narine conveyed how one of the two houses has been incorporated into the shelters’ COVID isolation plan; otherwise, the total beds would be six. It was communicated that occupants of the men’s shelter are supplied with private rooms. Narine illustrated how he frequently visits the Wilkinson Shelter in Brampton in the capacity of a first responder and has been called there due to physical altercations, lives being threatened, and more. He believes large open rooms are part of the problem, saying it reduces safety, security, and privacy for the men seeking refuge.

“I’m not knocking the way it’s run; they’re doing the best they can with what they have, but homeless men don’t even want to go there as it is a very dangerous facility for them,” Narine related to the committee. “When you’re constantly living in fear, and you don’t feel safe, your guard is always up, so people are constantly hostile.”

Narine illustrated the importance of adequately aiding men experiencing homelessness, as they don’t ‘fit in the brackets’ covered by other support systems and social programs, especially those not undergoing mental health crises or addictions. He shared how some men are homeless due to failed relationships and marriages, disabilities and other health issues, or downswings in the economy. That said, Narine says Choices is prepared to house those experiencing issues with drugs and alcohol.

“We’re not going to allow you to do the drugs or alcohol there, but we’re not going to stop you from coming in,” says Narine. “As long as you treat our staff with respect and you’re not violent, we’ll take you in, regardless of your situation.”

Leveraging the synergies made available through Choices Youth Shelter, Narine roughly estimated annual operating costs for the men’s shelter to be $200,000. This includes dedicated 24-hour staff to monitor the facility and Choices’ counsellors allocating 40% of their time to occupants of the men’s shelter. The counsellors would spend the remaining 60% of their time with the youths. If Choices combined facilities for the men and youth shelters, in addition to Choices’ transitional housing, Narine spoke of how cost-efficiencies related to expenses such as fire-suppression systems, phone lines, and staffing would be realized. Moreover, the chair of Choices Shelter explained how the organization is partnered with the Orangeville Food Bank, ensuring a steady flow of food. It was also unveiled that after appropriate legal changes are made, the men’s shelter would likely be able to take advantage of Choices’ charity status so that those who donate can receive tax receipts.

“We are not 100% there; what we’re doing right now is just a temporary shelter to see the need and look for funding,” Narine disclosed to the committee.

In addition to offering comparable counselling services that the youth receive, Choices will be administering education, appropriately targeted towards men, on topics such as managing personal finances, hygiene, and household maintenance. Support will also be provided for those undergoing mental health pressures, addictions, and rehabilitation. Perhaps most importantly, when it’s time to transition out of Choices, those in need will be assisted in finding a permanent place to live and a job.

“It’s essentially the same transitional program I run with the kids,” reported Narine. “I have a steady stream of jobs, clothing, and steel-toed boots that help support that.”

Before Choices Shelter can expand the transition program from just youths to men, Narine delineated how he needs first to solidify the short-term housing program.

“That’s how we operated Choices,” The organization’s chair told the committee. “I’m literally taking the exact same model, and it’s proven to have worked over the many years, and just transitioning it to men.”

The Orangeville Men’s Homelessness Committee expressed high levels of appreciation to Narine for taking on the initiative. Mayor Sandy Brown outlined the need for the committee to help Choices secure the resources required for a more permanent, long-term solution that will allow the organization to move onto expanding the transition program.

“It’s kind of like Field of Dreams,” commented Narine. “Build it, and they’ll come.”

References – Orangeville Homeless Committee Supports Men’s Shelter

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