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Northumberland County aims to open homeless shelter in Cobourg in September

Click to play video: 'New Cobourg homeless shelter expected to open in September'
New Cobourg homeless shelter expected to open in September
Work on a new homeless shelter in Cobourg's downtown appears to finally be making progress. Northumberland County says it's getting closer to an agreement with the town to allow the shelter's operations. As Robert Lothian reports, it comes after a lengthy process that's had more than a few bumps along the way – Jun 20, 2024

Officials aim to open a modernized homeless shelter in Cobourg, Ont., by the fall 2024.

Work has resumed on the project at 310 Division St. involving Northumberland County and Transition House Coalition with support from the Town of Cobourg.

The project will relocate the current Transition House shelter on Chapel Street,  which has four rooms with bunk beds, to the facility which was formerly the 47-bedroom Cobourg Retirement Residence. The new 35-space shelter will offer better accessibility, transitional housing accommodations and other services.

For Transition House executive director Ike Nwibe, who took on the role in December 2023, it has been a whirlwind six months.

“It has been baptism by fire,” Nwibe said.

The project was paused in the spring 2024 as Northumberland County council reviewed public feedback on ownership of the building.

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The county says a legal review and negotiation with Transition House led to an updated memorandum of understanding that sees the county retain ownership of the property, while Transition House will continue as the service provider.

“From the beginning of this undertaking, the goal has been to embed community input into decision-making processes about this transition, to support positive integration of shelter services within the neighbourhood and the broader community,” said County Warden Brian Ostrander. “We heard that this step was important to the community, and both Transition House and the County sought to honour this feedback.”

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Following the county’s purchase of the building, the Town of Cobourg implemented a bylaw that created stricter guidelines around operating emergency shelters, stating they need to be licensed and provide 24-7 security, regular maintenance, insurance and require a 24/7 contact to respond to issues at the facility within an hour.

Click to play video: 'Ontario Human Rights Commission ‘concerned’ by Cobourg shelter bylaw'
Ontario Human Rights Commission ‘concerned’ by Cobourg shelter bylaw

The county says an agreement is being formulated with the town on operational standards for the new shelter.

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The Town of Cobourg declined an interview with Global News, citing it was “too early” in the process.

Ostrander says provisions that both county and town councils are to consider for a final agreement include:

  • onsite security 24/7
  • establishing a community liaison committee
  • incorporate current Transition House’s practices including a code of conduct, not housing a safe injection site, offering a dedicated phone line to respond to agency partner and public inquiries
  • continued communication that a low-barrier shelter is not a no-barrier shelter

“As demonstrated throughout our history, Northumberland County and the Town of Cobourg continue to collaborate to achieve workable solutions to opportunities and challenges facing our community,” Ostrander said.

Nwibe said the process has been an “opportunity” to learn and to see the need to engage stakeholders.

Rebccaa Carman, the county’s housing and homelessness associate director, said an operating agreement framework with Transition House will ensure it will be the shelter’s service provider.

Ostrander aid architectural plans are nearing competition with permits being finalized for submission. He said interior reconstruction will begin once the permits are issued.

“We are on track for a September opening,” he said.

The project continues as a tent encampment grows on provincially owned land at the former Brookside Youth Centre on King Street.

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Nwibe said that while Transition House doesn’t provide services to the encampment, it is still trying to help.

“Which is where low barrier comes in so those who are living rough, folks who are living in the encampment and want to access help, that’s what we can commit to,” Nwibe said.

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