After 16 years, The Bridges, a year-round emergency shelter/supportive housing facility operated by the Cambridge Shelter Corporation, remains a staple organization in the community. The shelter recently celebrated its 16th anniversary.
Despite community complaints and an ongoing search for a new executive director, the organization has remained a cornerstone in community programming in Cambridge.
The following is a conversation between interim executive director Anne Tinker and Cambridge Times on how the organization has evolved, and how the conversation around homelessness has changed.
HOW HAS THE CAMBRIDGE SHELTER EVOLVED OVER THE PAST 16 YEARS?
We're way busier. The numbers have tripled in the past three years and since we opened in 2005 ... We built the facility to shelter 40 individuals, and before the pandemic, we were regularly sleeping over 100. So the housing crisis, as far as affordable housing is very real in Waterloo region.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES YOU’VE SEEN WHEN IT COMES TO THE ISSUE OF HOMELESSNESS IN CAMBRIDGE IN THE LAST 16 YEARS?
Well, there's huge differences in the drugs that are on the street. It used to be that crack cocaine was the drug of choice, and most people smoked that; they didn't inject it. Now fentanyl and crystal meth have taken over. Nearly everyone is injecting it because it's a fast high. However, it leaves you almost comatose. It's highly addictive, and it's very difficult for people who are determined to change their lives, to actually do it. It changes their brain chemistry.
IS IT HARDER TO GET FUNDING NOW THAN IT WAS 16 YEARS AGO?
Yes and no. I think people are certainly more aware of issues of homelessness and the fact that housing is so unaffordable. However, we still tend to blame the victims for their circumstances. Nobody wants to be sleeping at a shelter. Nobody wants to be in a room with 40 or 50 other people they don't know. So in some regards, we've gotten a lot harder in our attitudes toward people who are experiencing homelessness, which makes it a challenge with fundraising and donors, and it's certainly been a challenge during COVID.
THERE’S A STRONGLY HELD PERCEPTION IN CAMBRIDGE THAT HOMELESSNESS LEADS TO OTHER PROBLEMS SUCH AS ADDICTION AND CRIME, AND PARTICULARLY THAT IT’S AFFECTING THE GALT NEIGHBOURHOOD. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT PERCEPTION?
I can tell you if the bridges moved 15 miles out of town into the country, you would still have more people sleeping on the streets in the downtown core area and more petty crime. People need to be where the services are. And quite frankly, if you're an addict, you need to be where your dealer is. Yes, substance use absolutely does lead to some types of petty crime because you have to somehow fund that. But to make a blanket statement and say that every problem in the downtown core is the fault of people who are substance users or the Bridges is absolutely not correct.
For more information about Cambridge Shelter Corporation and the services it provides, visit https://cambridgesheltercorp.ca/.
Genelle Levy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times