The Church and the City meet to discuss sheltering Brantford’s Homeless

by Susan Zuidema

The famous “Welcome Love” sign hangs above one of Brantford’s homeless encampments.

On October 23, 2019, Brantford’s Social Services department sat down with twenty five individuals representing sixteen churches and Christian organizations from Brantford to brainstorm a temporary solution for an “out of the cold” overnight shelter.

The current homelessness situation is reaching a critical point. Fifty-four permanent beds now exist with the additional ability to use motels, yet the demand this week reached 79 beds.  This demand does not include another potential 100+ individuals still in encampments around the city. 

Susan Evenden, Brantford’s Director of Ontario Works and Social Services, explained that as of today, the city has exhausted “every avenue” to shelter people.  Having people in encampments is not desirable.  People need to be in a place where they can connect to services, including health care. 

The conversation explored many of the elements that would be required in finding a solution to the current situation.  Over the course of the meeting, it became clear that no one had a location to offer but everyone was in agreement that if a location could be found, volunteers would be forthcoming.

One of the greatest needs for the disenfranchised is relationship and connection.  The attendees agreed that this is one of the great strengths that our city’s faith communities bring to bear – the ability to follow through with individuals and build stable relationships and being seen as a friend and advocate.

“People need people in their lives who are not paid to be there,” one attendee noted, to the agreement of the room. 

In working with the homeless, volunteers need to be compassionate, show respect and avoid judgment. Training would be required, the sooner the better, so that volunteers are ready ahead of the opening of the new overnight shelter.

“There is more than enough work for everyone,” Evenden affirmed.

A new overnight shelter would strive to exist in the tension between minimal barriers/accessibility and the type of structure that is required to ensure safety for residents, staff, and volunteers.  For example, the shelter would not act as a “safe consumption site” and there would be standards of behaviour in place.  While no firm plans are in place, it is expected that the shelter would be managed at the high level by city and that city or contract staff would be on hand at all times.  More volunteers would be needed for the opening/settling hours (about 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.) and fewer would be needed through the night.  Volunteers would be vetted by the churches and a volunteer coordinator would be required.

Next steps:

  • ONEchurch will communicate immediate material needs [LIST IS HERE… CLICK TO ACCESS] so the community is informed about what is needed and the workers on the ground can receive necessary material goods.  The list is expected to include items such as tarps, tents, sleeping bags, flashlights and batteries, socks and underwear. Those with questions can contact info@onechurchbrantford.ca
  • The city will pursue identifying a site from possible leased locations.  Once this is secured, or is in process, the group will meet again.  A time is tentatively set on October 31. 
  • ONEchurch will attempt to determine who is currently doing what in the city.  Those who are operating in some capacity to serve the homeless can advise ONEchurch by emailing info@onechurchbrantford.ca.  ONEchurch can compile a “directory” of sorts to begin to extend the conversation about how the greater Church can collaborate to more efficiently serve.
  • Volunteer training to begin as soon as it can be organized.

NOTE: If someone you know is in danger of homelessness or is currently homeless, please encourage them to contact the City’s Social Services department at 220 Colborne or by calling 519-759-7009.  Afternoons are the best time to connect as the availability of beds for the upcoming evening is better known at that time.