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Homeless Committee Has Concerns With Choices Shelter

HomelessNESS Committee Raises Concerns With Choices Shelter

Although supportive of Choices Youth Shelter expanding its mandate to include adult men, Orangeville’s Men’s Homelessness Committee members have said that they may have to look at other options to secure a long-term solution.

“I’m not 100% sold that the Choices solution is the end game here,” pronounced Mayor Sandy Brown. “We talked about being broadsided by this announcement from them and the fact that County wasn’t involved at all either is concerning, clearly.”

On September 22, 2021, Orangeville’s Men’s Homelessness Committee received a presentation from Carol Barber, Housing Program Manager for Dufferin County, regarding what the county does to reduce and prevent homelessness. Dufferin County administers the homeless prevention program and the centralized waitlist for rent-geared-to-income housing. Barber informed the committee that Dufferin County also runs the coordinated access table, which addresses the ‘homeless crisis and distributes funding to organizations such as Choices Youth Shelter and Family Transition Place.’ Committee members posed questions to Barber, including what the county is doing to address chronic homelessness, and levelled criticism towards these efforts and the county’s perceived lack of support for the newly established men’s shelter. Choices had indicated to Orangeville council a need for $300,000 to $350,000 in annual funding to keep the men’s shelter in operation.

“Choices have stepped up to the plate and they want to do something, they need financing,” asserted Terry Carter, member of the homelessness committee. Carter says he has seen the homeless issue exacerbate in Orangeville over the past decade. “The Town of Orangeville, frankly, shouldn’t have to finance it. This should be financed by the County of Dufferin.”

Barber responded by explaining how every coordinated access table meeting, which Choices has a seat on, begins with members being given the opportunity to make funding requests. Furthermore, it was told how a conference was organized between Dufferin County and Choices, which was cancelled and never rescheduled.

“We are always a willing partner, and we support many programs and agencies in the community,” declared Barber, explaining how Dufferin County supports many programs and agencies. “We have not received a request for funding from the men’s shelter.”

Barber described how she had spoken with the director at Choices Shelter and requested a business case outlining how much was needed and how Choices would use the money. Barber also reported that Dufferin County had funded Choices ‘quite heavily’ that year, including a top-up for temporary pandemic pay and modifying a bathroom to create ‘isolation spots.’

“Often, it’s as simple as providing us the business case,” disclosed Barber. “Tell us what your mandate is, what you intend to do, what your costs are.”

Barber explained how she learnt about Choices establishing a men’s shelter through a Facebook post and claimed that nobody at the county had been contacted beforehand.

“I had no idea that this was in the works,” spoke Barber. “It certainly would have been helpful had we been approached sooner than later.”

Carter agreed, saying everyone was caught off guard and that Choices was experiencing a learning curve. Carter also expressed that he was happy to hear that Dufferin County had money available.

“What I think we found here is there’s some sort of breakdown in communication here, clearly,” stated Mayor Sandy Brown. “But from what I’m hearing is that you do have funds available to support the need, if necessary.”

Committee member Anthony Carnovale mentioned that he is seeing a pattern emerging in terms of communication issues involving Choices Shelter and that it’s creating conflict.

“I don’t know what it is that we can do,” articulated Carnovale. “But I feel like we have to communicate these frustrations to Choices.”

Committee members agreed, including Mayor Brown who communicated that the committee may have to develop another iteration of the men’s shelter. Carter also recognized the legitimacy to the concerns raised, saying that any funding given to Choices should have measurables and controls to ensure the funds are used for the programs at the men’s shelter.

“I would concur with the concerns raised about Choices as a long-term solution, or even as a short-term solution,” divulged Carter. “It would be a disaster to have monies from the Town of Orangeville go to Choices and they can’t deliver, so there needs to be some correlation between the payment and what they do with it.”

Carter then communicated that he hopes Choices can mature and deliver on the men’s shelter but that there needs to be accountability.

Later in the meeting, Councillor Debbie Sherwood recounted fundraising efforts for the men’s shelter at the Orangeville Farmer’s Market. Councillor Sherwood informed the committee that members who have conducted fundraising had received criticism from the community about Choices.

“We’ve heard that a lot, so it makes me second guess our commitment with them,” notified Councillor Sherwood, telling how people are trying to get in touch with Choices to donate items such as money and clothes but are not getting a response. “Like everyone else here, I hesitate.”

Councillor Sherwood also reported that people were hesitant to donate money once they learnt of the association with Choices.

“We tried telling them the money was specifically to keep Choices running, temporarily, until we get something done, bigger, and that we have no commitment or signed contract,” specified Councillor Sherwood. “I try and reassure people that we just want to keep it going so that they can keep the men off the street for the winter.”

Margo Young, another committee member, revealed how several people previously on the board of Choices Youth Shelter were among those making critiques of the shelter.

“I don’t know specifically what the problem was,” told Young. “They don’t have anything good to say about the organization, and they would never support it.”

After hearing all the concerns, Councillor Joe Andrews, the committee’s third and final council representative, communicated how he saw validity to the matters raised.

“What if, hypothetically, the Choices alliance blows up?” asked Andrews. “My Spidey senses here are leaning that we may have to look at Plan B, and that Plan B has to be some alliance with the county.”

Dufferin News reached out to Randy Narine, Chair of Choices Youth Shelter, to address the concerns raised regarding the organization. Narine spoke with Dufferin News on September 27 before addressing the Orangeville council.

Narine explained how Choices did cancel the meeting with Dufferin County regarding the men’s shelter, as they knew a business case would be required to obtain funding. As of the time of the conversation, Choices board members were currently providing their input on the document prepared by the shelter’s manager.

“It’s a busy undertaking,” admitted Narine. “With all these things happening, we’ve had to take a step back but we’re getting to rescheduling it now because I think we have everything where it needs to be.”

Narine told how Choices had recently applied for $10,000 under the county’s community grants program for the men’s shelter, administered by Headwaters Community in Action. Narine said their request was denied due to a condition in the community grants program that precludes organizations that Dufferin County already supports. He elucidated how he is working with those at Services and Housing in the Province (SHIP) to navigate the bureaucracy involved with obtaining funding. It was also discovered that Choices might have to undergo organizational restructuring to distribute tax receipts to those that donate to the men’s shelter.

“We didn’t see an issue with running the way we have it,” explained Narine. “As small as it may seem, you lose a lot of people when you tell them you can’t give them a tax receipt.”

Narine spoke to the initial lack of communication between Choices and the homelessness committee regarding establishing the men’s shelter, saying that although he was aware that there was a team tackling the issue, he did not know that it was associated with the Town of Orangeville. Narine told how he had been hearing discussions of a men’s shelter being proposed for years and had never heard of any updates where tangible steps were being made.

 “I overheard that there was a group of people coming together to open up a shelter, but I didn’t know that the mayor or council was involved,” maintained Narine, who is a parent and a full-time firefighter in the city in addition to volunteering in the same capacity in Shelburne. “I heard they were no where close to doing it, and I saw that we had three months left on this lease, and I thought ‘let me pull the trigger here and see what happens.'”

Narine described how Choices had two leased houses that were empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing a decline in youths frequenting the facility and how Choices decided to repurpose the houses to establish the men’s shelter. Narine then told how Choices obtained a list of men needing housing from Dufferin County before opening the men’s shelter.

“We’re not just taking in random people,” affirmed Narine. “We have a list that was provided to us from County, and we take them in.”

Narine ceded that Barber was correct in that Choices didn’t fully consult Dufferin County staff before opening but said Dufferin is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

“I don’t see why I would talk to County about opening it up, the money I got to start the shelter was from a private donor,” stated Narine. “Nothing was being done and I was running out of time.”

Narine did acknowledge that there have been ‘hiccups’ involved with opening the men’s shelter, which he attributes primarily to staffing issues.

“It’s very difficult to find people who want to work, particularly when we are currently unable to commit to how long the shelter will be open,” stipulated Narine. “These are minor trials and tribulations, but it hasn’t prevented us from taking in the men and getting them off the street.”

Narine expressed confidence that Choices would get the funding required to operate the shelter; it is just a matter of where the money will come from. Furthermore, he communicated that he felt that Choices was the only organization in Dufferin that could operate the men’s shelter.

“It might sound arrogant, but I don’t feel that there’s anybody in Dufferin County that can actually run a proper men’s homeless shelter outside of Choices, because this is what we do,” explicated Narine. “If nobody wants to support it, we’ll shut it down.”

On September 27, Mayor Brown brought forward a motion to have the Town of Orangeville set aside $166,546 representing required funding for a men’s shelter from November 1, 2021, to April 30, 2022. This money would be doled out monthly to Services and Housing in the Province (SHIP), Choices or other support agencies to provide shelter, food, and support for homeless men in Orangeville and Dufferin County. The motion was deferred until October 4 to allow Choices to submit a business case delineating how the funds would be spent and gain more input from Dufferin County. The business case is accessible through the October 4 council meeting agenda.

References – Homeless Committee Raises Concerns With Choices Shelter

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