When the topic of homelessness came up during Greater Napanee’s council meeting last month, the frustration on the part of the members of council was palpable.
The feeling was so evident, it came through clearly even when watching the meeting on YouTube after the fact.
It wasn’t completely unwarranted. Throughout the winter members of council have been lambasted on social media for their lack of a response to the issue of homelessness in the community. When word broke the Napanee Area Community Health Centre wouldn’t be the site of a warming centre, many assumed that meant there were no options for those looking to get out from the cold.
Just as the safety of those in need of help is paramount, so too is the safety of volunteers or staff who are assisting them. Though COVID-19 protocols made it difficult to safely run the centre, neighbouring communities such as Kingston and Belleville found a way to operate shelters. That inevitably led to the question ‘if they can do it, why can’t we?’
Though it may not have been well advertised, the truth is there were options for those in need of a secure bed this winter. At the county level, individuals experiencing homelessness have had access to emergency shelter in the form of a private motel room with a warm bed and washroom facilities. Though the program has been available for a few years now, it’s become increasingly more crucial in the era of COVID-19.
The issue with temporary shelter is right there in the name-it’s temporary. A long lasting solution to homelessness isn’t an easy snap of the finger. It’s not even as if barriers, such as money, staff or facilities, are standing in the way of a clear-cut answer. Even if a plausible, financed answer were found, finding a large group of people who would even agree it’s the right answer would be a challenge in itself. Some are even of the persuasion that if the solution is too ideal, it will attract more to the town in need of the service-something some would rather not see.
Compounding the problem is the fact the answer isn’t as easy as a warm bed and a hearty meal. That’s certainly something every human being should have, but even when the money is found to provide those, there’s often deeper issues to resolve. Access to mental health services is critical to the success of any long-term homelessness issue. The reasons a person can end up on the street are multiple and not always the fault of the individual.
Town of Greater Napanee staff has been tasked with putting together a report on the matter to come back to council in June. That doesn’t mean answer necessarily has to come from staff, at least not all of it. Rather than jump to conclusions, a much more productive approach would be to share ideas and resources and work together a resolution that benefits as many people as possible.
It won’t be easy, but it’ll be a lot more effective.