Tom Meeks
Published on: June 16, 2020

COVID-19 has stalled an important project for Grace Inn Shelter, but Board of Directors Chairman Jodie Jenkins says the project at 45 South Front Street is certainly needed.

Earlier this year, Grace Inn’s board purchased an updated heritage building at 45 South Front Street near the Boathouse Restaurant for the purpose of creating transitional housing.

The purchase is conditional on funding becoming available from the federal and provincial governments for affordable housing, Jenkins said.

“It’s a work in progress, but the coronavirus situation has put us back. We had all of the provincial and federal funding lined up and then this came along so we’re kind of at a standstill right now,” he said.

Jenkins said there are people using the homeless shelter on Church Street who really shouldn’t be.

“We have guests using the shelter who have fairly stable lives, working up in the industrial park or elsewhere, but they just don’t have enough money to afford market rents at this time. There’s an obvious need for some transitional housing in this community.”

The property is already zoned to allow such housing and Jenkins said the purchase of the property was made using donated dollars not dollars granted by the City of Belleville.

“From my perspective this transitional housing is very important. We have people in the community who are working, but just don’t have the money to pay for rent, and a shelter isn’t really where they need to be, but it’s their only option,” he said.

“There are so many examples like that. I’m thankful we have the shelter to be able to offer temporary support for those individuals, but a shelter is the last place they need to be, but it’s there only option, so if we can offer, say, six individuals a better, more permanent option where they can have regular housing at a reasonable price. It’s about giving those people a hand up, not a hand out. If we can vet those people and get the right ones into the house it’s better for everyone involved,” Jenkins said.

Meanwhile, Belleville Police Chief Ron Gignac made a presentation at a recent Police Services Board meeting that police will be cracking down on the chronic abuse and disturbance calls they are receiving regarding transient vagrants who have come to the city from out of town.

Gignac noted that there are organizations that transport these transient individuals “out of the goodness of their hearts,” not knowing who they’re bringing to the city and it has led to a wide range of incidents involving police.

“We have some folks here that are carrying knives and have threatened my police officers off-duty in grocery stores, coffee shops and have threatened their families and their spouses,” Gignac said.

“That’s the transient vagrant population (being assaultive or combative) and that’s unacceptable. Our citizens should not be fearful of looking at people who walk beside them on the street. They shouldn’t be sworn at just for looking at someone. It’s unacceptable behaviour,” he said.

In his report to the board, Gignac said Belleville Police Service representatives met with OPP officers and detachment command personnel in early May to form a “cohesive, unified” plan to deal with these individuals.

He said the plan may include laying arrests and criminal charges and removing them from the wider community, adding the police service is aware of the large homeless population in Belleville, the Quinte region and across the country and are willing to assist people who are homeless or vulnerable and in need of support, including transients willing to seek that help.

“Chief Gignac and the BPS have been awesome to work with, they have been very supportive, but transients have not been a problem at Grace Inn,” Jenkins said.

“Do we get the occasional out-of-town person, sure we do, a few a month, but they only stay a couple of days and then they move on. This is not unique to Belleville, before we had the shelter we would send individuals to other communities, so it’s not like we’re getting 20, 30 or 40 people coming in all of the time. It’s a handful and they’re not staying for long. I can’t speak for other organizations in the area, but that’s not what’s happening here,” Jenkins said.