Homelessness is no longer just a big city problem in Canada.
Smaller municipalities surrounding the Belleville, Ont., region are reporting an increase in unhoused people during the pandemic, and many communities are struggling to provide services.
“Neighbouring municipalities are actually delivering their homeless people to our region in hopes of accessing support such as at the Grace Inn,” said Belleville city councillor, Kelly McCaw.
“Belleville and Hastings County are main funding contributors to the Grace Inn, and I personally expect that our residents should be housed first and given priority,” said McCaw, referring to a staff report that showed 31 per cent of those using the city’s only emergency shelter aren’t actually from Belleville.
Belleville’s mayor Mitch Panciuk says the city is struggling to respond to the needs of the unhoused.
“People want to be compassionate, but they’re getting to a point now where they’re saying ‘this is overwhelming us.’ We’re having trouble dealing with our own residents, much less people who are coming from all over Ontario,” he said.
According to a count conducted in April of this year, there are roughly 180 homeless people currently in Belleville. The Grace Inn only has 21 beds.
“We’ve cleaned up 58 illegal encampments already this year in the city of Belleville because of health and hygiene issues and safety issues. We don’t want to see these tent cities that we see in other cities where all of a sudden you have different problems the police have to respond to,” explained Panciuk.
Council was presented with figures showing more than 500 police calls related to the Grace Inn shelter, and dozens connected to the Bridge Street United Church, which offers homeless services.
The calls were made from December 2020 to the middle of last month.
Marc Bourgeois owns a hair salon next to the Grace Inn and says he isn’t sure councillors understand how complex the homeless crisis truly is.
“There’s a lot of foul language that happens in the street. It can be during the day, it can be during the evening – it doesn’t really matter. There’s sometimes been people going to the bathroom in the parking lot right beside us. It’s sometimes a little bit uncomfortable for (customers),” said Bourgeois.
While council didn’t make any decisions on the issue of homelessness, a number of councillors spoke out in support of the Grace Inn Shelter and helping anyone in need, regardless of where they’re from.