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Homeless shelter looking for a place to call home

A painted cardboard box depicting the reality of homelessness at the CMHA Sleep-Out for the homeless event in January 2014. Photo by Suzanne Coolen

By Martin Allen [1]

BELLEVILLE – For people living on the street, the Grace Inn Homeless Shelter will fill a crucial gap in providing a bed for the night, says the woman who is trying to get it opened.  

For the past year, Kellly Oribine has lobbied to get a homeless shelter built for Belleville. Currently, Belleville only has transitional homes run in part by organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association, she said.

Temporary housing acts to bridge the gap between homelessness and affordable housing, according to the CMHA website [2]. A homeless shelter is more of an immediate fix to get someone off the streets at night.

Oribine says finding that shelter hasn’t been easy.

“We recently put an offer in on a building, but it sold,” she said. “But these things happen – that’s just life.”

Oribine worked at a drop-in centre downtown called Nightlight [3]. The centre would let people come by, grab a cup of coffee, have a bite to eat and socialize with others a few nights a week. Oribine dreaded when closing time came.

“It hurt to send them out at 9:30,” she said. ” They’d couch surf, sleep in abandoned buildings or just on the street.

“Working at Nightlight really made me focus and love people. They’re exactly like us, we’re all just people.”

One particular moment that stays with her is a 60-year-old man who would come by the facility.

“He said his birthday was coming up, and that he really loved carrot cake. So I baked him a carrot cake for his birthday,” Oribine  says, her voice cracking with emotion. “He wept. He literally wept. He said, ‘I’ve never had a birthday cake before!’ so that was pretty special.”

Oribine said it’s important to remember there are different kinds of poverty. She mentions one that we don’t often think about but is a reality for many people: relational poverty.

“Some people are lucky to have a support network of friends and family. Some people don’t have any of that,” she said. “Not everyone has the same privileges you or I might have.”

Oribine says finding that building for the shelter has been a lot of work. Once a building is purchased; the shelter could open in a matter of months – something she says can’t come soon enough.

Ruth Ingersoll, executive director of Community Development Council for Quinte, agrees.

“We have a lot of hidden homelessness in Belleville,” she says. “Someone would drive down Front Street and not see anyone laying on benches like in Toronto, so a lot of people in our community think we don’t have any homelessness.

“The problem is we don’t have a shelter,” she says. “Sometimes what happens is people are put on a bus and sent to Cobourg or Kingston. We ship them out to another community, they don’t know anybody or have any resources. So they end up hitchhiking or finding their way back here, so it ends up being very cyclical.”

Ingersoll says one way to help the homeless is more accommodation.

“We need more beds. We need that Band-Aid. But long term we need to work with that person to help them find long-term housing. But we need to get them housed with a bed first. We need to help them find permanent housing so they don’t end up back on the street.”

For more information, or to help out, go to www.graceinnshelter.com [4] or facebook.com/graceinnshelter [5].