By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
DELHI—It was just past 11 p.m. on Saturday, November 27, 2021 when local resident Leanne Arnal saw a post that drove her out of bed toward the front steps of the Simcoe library, where people had been seen sleeping.
“I looked at the window and it was a blizzard. I was so upset about it, something told me to get out of bed and go and see if anyone needs a hot chocolate,” she said.
After bringing warm beverages and treats to the three people, she noted the condition they were in. One person was bent over a pile of soaking wet blankets, one had a bicycle but no gloves, coat, or hat, and the third was wearing slippers: “I can’t describe it. I was heartbroken,” she said.
Arnal returned home to collect warm clothing and form a plan to find them shelter for the night: “I called a place in Delhi who was more than happy to get people out of the cold,” she said. “As we drove to the hotel, the woman described how she hadn’t slept inside in months. It was a relief for her to be inside.”
It was after leaving the hotel that Arnal turned to social media to request supplies: “Within 15 hours we had these people in a hotel with supplies, warm food, boots, and more donated. It was wonderful. We have two rooms booked and through that outreach they have provided rooms for another five days or so and we’ve encouraged one person so far to seek treatment.”
“Having somebody in a hotel room is not solving any long-term problems. These people need something that’s going to help them sustain,” she continued. “They need treatment, they need nutrition, some of them need mental health care, some of them need drug addiction care – they’ve been traumatized.”
Arnal said she is involved in a new initiative called Norfolk Community In Action (CIA), made up of people with experience in health care and addictions: “Our goal is to make something like that available without any excuses and without any barriers. Let’s just get help for people as they need help.”
One such person, a man named Jamie now staying at the hotel, recently had a critically-needed mobility scooter stolen from him, leaving him “devastated”.
“He’s got a degenerative disease in his legs. He suffers with pain so badly. He can walk a few steps and then he’s got to sit down,” said Arnal. “That scooter was his everything. Hopefully that is one thing we can do as a community is come together and help him get a scooter.”
Louise Lovell, Program Manager for Haldimand Norfolk Homeless Prevention Services, touched on some of the options in the community for those living on the streets: “There are several community organizations and churches that offer holiday meal and gift programs during the holidays – most notably the Salvation Army in both counties. Many organizations and service clubs have holiday programs that can be found on their websites.”
She continued, “Anyone experiencing homelessness at any time of the year may contact our Homeless Prevention Services (HPS) team at 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623 extension 3134 for help with Emergency Housin, information, or access to other housing support resources.”
The Emergency Housing Program is accessible Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for intake. Arnal claims she did call HPS but didn’t hear back, something she says she finds “alarming,” however Lovell clarified that the HPS is not an emergency service like 911 and are not staffed 24/7 like a traditional shelter: “We do not have an endless supply of rooms available daily.”
“We do not have a traditional shelter for homelessness in Haldimand or Norfolk,” explained Lovell. “In order to prioritize our resources … callers are assessed to ensure they have exhausted any/all available resources in any day for safe and appropriate housing that day/night prior to being approved for an Emergency Housing Program bed. We have 17 beds available daily for those most in need.”
Due to limited resources, if an assessment indicates that someone has an alternative shelter arrangement, HPS will insist they utilize it. Lovell noted that in cases such as the one presented by Arnal, it may appear nothing is being done, but that is because HPS cannot comment on any treatment options they may have presented to such individuals.
Lovell said that while the results aren’t in yet, HPS is compiling data from a recently conducted homelessness enumeration study in both Haldimand and Norfolk counties. She believes the results of this study will help both municipalities understand what direction they need to take to address the issue.
“At minimum I can say there is homelessness in Haldimand and Norfolk. While it is predominantly ‘hidden’ homelessness, we are seeing it more visibly in the communities in the form of encampments and this again can be attributed to a multitude of factors that all contribute to the prevalence of homelessness,” said Lovell.
She said that housing alone will not solve the problem, instead a “multi-service and multi-agency” approach is needed: “In order for us to end homelessness it must be the first priority of everyone, not just the homelessness serving sector.”
“All of us are just a few missed paychecks away from being on the streets,” said Arnal of the stigma surrounding the homeless community. “These people are somebody’s mother, father, daughter, uncle, aunt. It’s a horrible situation to be in, where you’re feeling so destitute and so defeated.”
She said she’s encouraged those who have reached out to help to bring those donations down in person and meet these people first-hand. She described a moment where a group of people showed up with an assortment of items and met with one of her guests outside of their room: “The woman put her head in her hands and cried. She smiled so bright to see these people…. It had nothing to do with the physical things, it had to do with the support and encouragement and the kindness. They’re people who want the same things we do. They want to be happy, they want to be healthy, they want their family, they want to be forgiven for their mistakes. They want a second chance, and mostly, they want help and support.”