Thursday, June 24, 2010

Alliance to End Homelessness working together

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

After settling in Barrie more than a decade ago, one of the first groups I volunteered alongside was the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, also known as SCATEH or “the Alliance”. Serving on the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, I worked closely with the Alliance’s founder Mandy Hillyard, who also co-chaired the Task Force.

Over the ensuing three years I learned a lot about housing and poverty issues in Barrie, and when the Task Force was disbanded, I became a member of SCATEH myself. Mandy has moved on to other responsibilities, but the Alliance continues to expand and advocate.

The Alliance has chapters in the main cities in Simcoe County, including Barrie, Bradford, Collingwood, Orillia, and Midland/Penetang. Each chapter is made up of like-minded individuals representing agencies that deal with homelessness, such as shelters, soup kitchens, food banks, drop-in centres, and housing agencies or providers. Groups whose clients are at risk of poverty or homelessness also take part, such as mental health, addictions, or agencies serving those in trouble with the law. In Barrie, the chapter’s members include the Elizabeth Fry Society, Grocery Assistance Program, Barrie Housing, the Salvation Army, Youth Haven, the Women and Children’s Shelter, the David Busby Street Centre, Samaritan House, Ontario Works, the Green Party, Canadian Mental Health, etc.

These partners meet monthly to collaborate, because their portfolios often overlap. They share information about programs or opportunities, as well as needs they may have or what they can offer. They also work together on joint events, such as last fall’s Day of Compassion, which offered food, winter clothing, health services and information free to the impoverished or homeless to help them prepare for winter.

Another traditional event is the “Night Out in the Cold” each fall at Fred Grant Square, which in recent years has included a peaceful march from the Armories to the Memorial to raise the profile of the Chapter and poverty-related issues. After a free meal for 200-250 people, an outdoor debate is held (during election years) where candidates take questions about poverty and family budget issues from members of the public. This year will be no exception, so watch for an announcement of the event in October. As a candidate myself at three of those debates (06, 07 and 08, at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels) I can vouch that they offer the toughest questions and one of the most genuine audiences. An easy gauge of how much a candidate cares for the most vulnerable is whether they even show up for this event, and how sincerely they can address the issues.

The Alliance’s next activity is an Open House tomorrow (Friday June 25), from 9 – 10 am at Trinity Anglican Church, 24 Collier St. This “first annual” event is designed to educate potential new members who can help expand and carry the Alliance forward. After refreshments, Barrie chapter chairperson Paula King will introduce the Alliance’s activities and goals, and then attendees will be able to ask questions, network with each other, and see if there is a role for them as an Alliance member.

The Alliance’s motto is “Working together to end homlessness”. If you are concerned about poverty and homelessness in our community, and would like to play a role in addressing them, then you should definitely attend.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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