Midland homelessness action committee wets its feet at first meeting

·3 min read

Midland's Homelessness Action Committee is definitely taking baby steps toward understanding the problem before tackling the solutions.

The committee met Thursday for the first time since being formed and approved by council. Of the three councillors appointed to the committee, only one showed up.

"I want to continue to be a part of the solution to help the homeless around town," said Coun. Beth Prost, adding she wished councillors Bill Gordon and Carole McGinn, both of whom are very vocal about the issue, had shown up to better shed light on the situation.

In their absence, Prost had to take on the task of presenting council's understanding of homelessness in the area when questioned by the elected chair, Michelle Bilek, national organizer with Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

Prost said she couldn't speak to how knowledgeable everyone on council was about the situation, but said she does know everyone believes it's a huge problem

"We don't know how to fix it. That's why we've formed this committee and involved members that have the ability to fix it," she said. "We have a lot of homelessness and a lot of mental health issues. As far as I know, people are housed in motels/hotels during COVID. It's a Band-Aid situation. There's a lot of bad blood in the community. There are a lot of people that feel they're not being heard and helped."

Bilek, who lives in Mississauga, has experienced homelessness experience and also works with Peel Alliance to End Homelessness.

"I have a pretty good understanding of the struggles and the inability to navigate a system that is fuelled toward managing homelessness instead of solving it," she said. "I hope I can learn more about your community and work with council and all of you to drive change and bring best practices into your community to getting folks housed instead of just managing homelessness."

Prost also indicated that she is aware that there are people living in temporary accommodation known as 'tent cities.'

"It's not healthy because of their own actions and the cold weather," she said. "There's a big crack in our system and we can't fix everybody, but I think we need a better system created so these people have somewhere to go."

Kevin Halligan, a Midland resident, who has lived in Shelter Now for six months, said he doesn't know much about the current situation but would like to learn and offer any help he can.

"I work in Midland as a security guard at the Guest House," he said. "I see a lot of homeless people coming and going and it's upsetting. Everything I know (about homelessness) is anecdotal and pretty amateur.

"There are limits on the amount of time people can spend in the town shelter and as far as I can see they have a hard time securing accommodation when they're asked to leave, so they often have to leave the area."

Unclear on how the Midland shelter operates, Bilek turned to Sonia Ladouceur, executive director of Shelter Now, a non-profit that provides individualized programming for people experiencing homelessness.

Ladouceur said she didn't know much about how the shelter operated and suggested it be added as an action item for a committee member to work on and bring back information to the next meeting, which will be held on Thursday, Jan. 28.

As for her own organization, she said, "We are trying to implement what we call a coordinated access system. We would like to be able to identify everybody who is experiencing homelessness."

Margaret Hamelin, a Midland resident and community member on the committee, volunteered to gather the information from the Guest House to share with other members next year.

The committee will meet every fourth Thursday of the month.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com