Barrie warming centre a lifesaving “band aid”

The Anglican
 on March 1, 2022

On Jan. 21, a much-needed daytime warming centre opened in Barrie at Trinity Church. The warming centre is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will remain open until the end of March. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it currently serves around 12-16 people each day. The warming centre is a collaboration between Trinity Church, the John Howard Society and the Gilbert Centre.

“We realise this is a band aid,” says the Rev. Canon Simon Bell, incumbent at St. Margaret, Barrie, which is part of a regional ministry with Trinity Church and Good Shepherd, Stayner, “but if we don’t do it then people will die. We’re just keeping people alive one extra day.” 

According to a survey conducted by the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness on the night of Nov. 17, 2020, 536 people were counted experiencing homelessness. Of those, 49% were in Barrie. However, Canon Bell estimates that figure to be much higher now as the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

A significant proportion of Barrie’s unhoused or precariously house population is individuals who have been released from the nearby correctional centre in Penetanguishene. The former prisoners are dropped off at the bus station in Barrie, despite not necessarily being from the area. There are few resources available in Simcoe County for the reintegration of prisoners and with no money and nowhere to go, former prisoners are left unhoused or precariously housed. This has been a growing issue as prisons across Ontario have tried to reduce their numbers to curb the spread of COVID-19. Other issues are also at play, including the opioid crisis and a lack of affordable housing.

Canon Bell says that a huge influx of professionals from Toronto during the pandemic has driven up house prices in Barrie. “People are living in their cars. They’re employed but they can’t afford housing. We’re supporting a carpenter and a man who does snowplow driving and construction. Both live in their cars. They’re employed but underpaid.” 

As part of the City of Barrie’s New Foundations affordable housing initiative, Trinity Church was invited to apply for $20,000 to do an affordable housing feasibility study to assess the practical steps needed to build affordable housing on the church’s property. It’s just one step towards moving beyond “band aids.”

But solving the challenges facing the unhoused and preciously housed goes far beyond one church’s efforts. “We can’t solve the problem of a minimum wage versus a living wage. We can’t solve the opioid crisis. There doesn’t seem to be a coherent conversation in Canada around the opioid crisis. Safe sites are another band aid. Do we need to be looking at decriminalizing drug use?”

Trinity Church is part of a coalition that is working on homelessness and food security issues in Barrie. The coalition meets every week and includes local officials. Canon Bells sees this as one of the advantages to being in a small city. “When I worked in downtown Toronto, I would sometimes meet with local politicians but here we have the ear of the mayor and Simcoe officials. I can have a coffee with the mayor.” But Canon Bell admits that members of the coalition often feel overwhelmed. 

Still, he does see hope. “Where the hope lies for me is in small agencies and churches getting involved and making a small contribution. Bishop Andrew and the College of Bishops have encouraged us to continue these projects during covid. So, that really helped, not needing to convince the system, but the system saying, ‘please, make this happen.’”


  • Naomi Racz

    Naomi Racz is a freelance writer and the editor of Faith Tides, the newspaper of the Diocese of Islands and Inlets (BC).

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