A homelessness and poverty roundtable discussion at the former Irish Hall in Belleville. It will become the Grace Inn Shelter next
year.(Photo:John Spitters/Quinte News)
It was a cold night for a November 22 and it was almost as cold inside in the former Irish Hall in Belleville, soon to be renovated to become
the Grace Inn Shelter for the homeless.
But braving the cold both outside and in were about 30 people who gathered for a discussion on homelessness and poverty hosted by the Grace Inn Shelter.
Many were from government and other social agencies.
While there certainly was passionate discussion about the growing problems involving poverty and affordable housing in the area, the meeting also featured
A couple of people questioned why a Conservative MP from Alberta who stated he believed that the free market was a better answer for affordable housing than
government was a guest at the meeting. They also questioned that MP’s positions on the #MeToo movement.
Host Jodie Jenkins of the Grace Inn answered that Arnold Viersen, MP for Peace River-Westlock, was interested in the issues and was invited.
Michelle Stephens, also on the board of the Grace Inn Shelter, said that homelessness and poverty were problems everywhere in Canada and that the meeting
was open to anyone.
A man wanted a clear answer on whether gay, transgender or two-spirited people, drug addicts, and sex workers would be welcome at Grace Inn.
Jenkins gave a clear answer. “Everyone will be welcome at this shelter. If they have a need we’ll help no matter who they are.”
Jenkins went on to point out that there were people from all three main political parties, Conservative, Liberal and NDP, and that was as it should be because
poverty and homelessness were issues for everyone in the community.
A man suggested some at the meeting didn’t seem to trust the hosts. “If you start by not trusting people involved in the project we’ll get nowhere. Let’s
discuss the issues.”
As far as the debate on homelessness and poverty was concerned, everyone agreed the issues were complicated and that the problems were growing each year.
A Hastings County housing agency is seeing some 300 people a month looking for an affordable place to live.
A woman representing Gleaners Food Bank said that last year the food bank served six people who were truly homeless, not couch surfing or sleeping in vehicles.
This year, the food bank is helping 12 homeless persons. And as we’ve reported recently the Belleville Salvation Army is serving many more people meals this year
than last and the numbers have been trending higher for several years.
John Regimbal, who volunteers with the Army and the Affordable Housing Committee, wondered why buildings such as the Armouries or the vacant Quinte
Secondary School couldn’t be used to house the homeless, especially in the winter.
Jenkins understood the frustration and said everything was complicated by regulations and concerns about liability. “Believe me nothing about this is as simple
as you might think.”
It was generally agreed that while shelters and emergency services would always be needed, they weren’t the entire answer.
One man said there needed to be a linked system featuring emergency help, transitional housing and services such as counselling and education, and finally real
long-term affordable housing.
The woman from Gleaners Food Bank said people should consider each other “neighbours” and that the entire community had to come together to solve
the problems. She suggested building contractors could do more to provide affordable housing.
“I believe working people deserve to earn a comfortable living but no one should be making 100 times more money than the average worker.”
The Grace Inn Shelter will have 21 beds, most of them for men. It’s hoped the shelter, which will feature a commercial kitchen and other services, will be at least partially open by the spring.