A group of community organizations has announced a partnership to provide an emergency winter response to the homelessness crisis in Peterborough, with plans to launch an overnight drop-in program to offset the shortfall in shelter beds beginning in mid-January and continuing until the end of April.
The partnership comprises frontline service providers, researchers, and funders, including the United Way Peterborough and District, whose CEO Jim Russell led the announcement during an event at the former Trinity United Church at 360 Reid Street — the intended site of the drop-in program — on Monday morning (December 19). Along with the United Way, funders include the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough, the Canadian Mental Health Association of Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge, and Fourcast.
“City council’s recent decision to deny funding to a much-needed winter-drop in came as both a disappointment and a shock,” said Mark Graham, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association of Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge. “We are proud to be among the partners rising to the occasion to respond to this serious need in the community.”
Last Monday (December 12), Peterborough city council voted for a second time against Town Ward councillor Alex Bierk’s call for $100,000 to support the operation of the overnight drop-in centre by a coalition of community agencies. Before the vote, Peterborough Police Service community engagement and development coordinator Emily Jones addressed council and said the drop-in centre would be going ahead regardless of whether the city provided funding or not.
Jones told kawarthaNOW last Wednesday that all involved were “working very diligently” to get the drop-in program set up and open as soon as possible. At the time, both Russell and One City Peterborough co-executive director Christian Harvey declined to share further details with kawarthaNOW, indicating a formal announcement was forthcoming.
Monday’s announcement named the community organizations that have contributed to developing the drop-in program, including Fourcast, Canadian Mental Health Association of Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge, Mobile Support Overdose Resource Team (MSORT), United Way Peterborough and District, John Howard Society of Peterborough, Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough, Research for Social Change Lab (Trent University), Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough, and One City Peterborough.
“The concern among us as partners was the lack of action and urgency to response to those unhoused and living outside as we are coming into winter,” said Fourcast executive director Donna Rogers.
The most recent data available on the City of Peterborough’s website indicates 314 people in the community are experiencing homelessness and there are around 106 shelter beds available for families, youth, and adults. According to the United Way Peterborough and District’s most recent Point-in-Time Count, conducted in December 2021, just over half of the 176 people without housing who were interviewed said they either didn’t know where they were planning to sleep that night or were planning on sleeping in cars or outside.
“It’s imperative that we dispel and dismiss the narrative that there are enough beds for people,” said Russell. “There is a chronic shortfall. If there wasn’t, why were we approached to problem solve the coming winter’s challenge? At the very least, let’s tell the truth about the number of unhoused people and their needs.”
In July, the United Way released a report summarizing the results of its one-time 2021 emergency winter response funding, citing the need for a plan for the coming winter. Among the results, the outcomes of One City Peterborough’s StopGap program were highlighted, showing that 371 individuals accessed One City’s overnight drop-in program in the winter of 2021, which provided people living outside with an indoor space to warm up and access basic necessities including snacks and washrooms.
The demand for the One City program often exceeded its 16-person capacity, confirming that overnight services in addition to the current shelter system were needed. Beginning in August, the City of Peterborough convened facilitated discussions with many community partners to seek advice and counsel for the upcoming winter. At that time, there was consensus an overnight drop-in program would be required to offset the shortfall in shelter beds.
Last fall, Peterborough’s previous city council had considered a $200,000 grant for a drop-in program at the former Trinity United Church. At that time, city staff advised the “lame duck” provision of the Municipal Act prevented city council or staff from making any expenditure over $50,000 during a municipal election campaign.
“Barriers faced by the city such as the lame-duck period during the municipal election prevented decisions from being made well into the fall, delaying community agencies’ ability to act sooner,” reads a media release from the United Way on behalf of the community partnership. “As a result, this winter’s overnight drop-in program has an expected start date of mid-January, with the start date being dependent on hiring staff and finalizing programmatic details.”
One City Peterborough will provide staffing and oversight of the drop-in program, which would operate at the former Trinity United Church between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. The one-time emergency response program will operate until April 30, 2023
“People who are unhoused deserve the dignity of being sheltered and included in our community,” said Christian Harvey, co-executive director of One City Peterborough. “Until that is possible, we want to ensure no one dies in the cold.”