Today’s Northumberland sat down and spoke with Board Chair of Transition House along with Community and Customer Service Manager of Northumberland County Community and Social Services.
Since the beginning of 2019, emergency services have responded to Transition House located on Chapel Street in Cobourg over 200 times.
· over 83 times for Northumberland County Paramedics
· over 100 times for Cobourg Police
· over 23 times for Cobourg Fire Department.
Today’s Northumberland spoke with Marsha Jones, Board Chair, Transition House and Sarah Tanner, Community and Customer Service Manager, Northumberland County Community & Social Services.
Transition House holds up to 22-clients with five bunk beds holding 10 people in one room. They say Transition House is always full.
The 11 staff members at Transition House have basic CPR training and non-violent crisis intervention.
Transition House re-opened in October 2018 after being closed for several months after the building sustained “considerable” damage and a person was assaulted.
Since that time it has become a “low threshold” facility.
Jones: So people who have addiction or mental health issues are not turned away. The people that we have, have a higher level of needs then those that we had in the past. From the inside of Transition House, I think it’s working beautifully. Sometimes if people are perceived to have overdosed and been ill they do call the ambulance.
Tanner: Across Canada, the face of homelessness is changing. The most vulnerable in this community have to have somewhere to go. We know that with the affordable housing crisis, we know that other options that people have are changing. It’s not just Cobourg. Across everywhere things are changing. I think it is about communities finding ways to support the most vulnerable. Transition House is the place in Cobourg, in Northumberland that is dealing with the people that nobody else can deal with and that’s why they are at Transition House. If those 22 people were dispersed across Northumberland County I’m sure the calls for emergency support would be the same. I think it seems high because they are in one place.”
TN: But it doesn’t solve the problem.
Tanner: I don’t think emergency services are called to solve a problem. They are called to keep people safe and health and keep other people safe whenever they can.
Jones: It could be if those people were experiencing the difficulties that they are experiencing and they were on the street where there is no one to watch them they might die. So our staff has a responsibility to care for these people and provide them a safe environment. One of the things is to access assistance if it is needed.
Today’s Northumberland: Is there a mandate just to provide the facility? Is Transition House doing anything to help these people?
Jones: I think we need to be clear it isn’t just Transition House. The homelessness system in Cobourg is where the supports are found. It isn’t just Transition Houses role to support those people with the highest needs. They’re supporting them with shelter at that time. We are lucky that our Transition House does have other support. When perspective clients come to Transition House there is a process to go through to ensure that Transition House can provide the services that are needed and required.
Tanner: We put people in touch with agencies that can assist. There have been at times people who have had a very level of service from different agencies. Be it their mental health, physical health, addiction, poverty.
Jones:.One of our first processes is trying to access a place for them to live other than Transition House. Where have you been previously, when have you been last night? But you figure by the time people come to us, they’re often at a very, very low point in their life. I can’t imagine that it’s easy to knock on the door and say, “I have no place to live.”
Today’s Northumberland: You don’t see a problem with that amount of times emergency services has attended?
Jones: I don’t see how we cannot have emergency services if they are required with the vulnerability with our clients.
Tanner: They are the most vulnerable in your community all in one place. But if they were all spread and there were 10 calls to Brighton and 10 calls to Campbellford you wouldn’t think anything of it. It’s because they are all in one place. They are the people that have the biggest challenges and the most barriers.
Jones: The cooperation among people when I go in is unbelievable. I don’t have a fear, they treat me with respect.
Today’s Northumberland: Do clients in Transition House participate in duties in keeping the place clean?
Jones: They look after the house. That’s house the gardens are kept clean. This week they requested a hoe and a shovel and nails to fix the gardens and picnic tables. I was in earlier this week and one client was moving into a forever home on Sunday, four others are going to see a place on Saturday. Two others are going to share a place to live.
Tanner: Some of the people there have jobs, they just can’t afford rent. I think another service offered by Transition House is we are very fortunate to have a case manager who works along side them. Appointments are set up with our housing case manager to make sure that they are looking for housing and they are given information on anything that becomes available. The progress of some of them is absolutely phenomenal.
Tanner:On those really, really hot days and someone has got no where to go and they are turned away from shelters because they are all full, and they are really, really hungry and they’re dirty and can’t get a shower Transition House have let people in just to have a coffee and a shower, and cool down a bit before they go on their way.
Tanner:Transition House is low barrier, it’s not no barrier. If anyone is put at risk, physically or emotionally they are asked to leave. And that is horrific for the staff to do.
Since going to a “low barrier” facility both women agree it has brought new challenges, but Tanner says, “they are community challenges, not just Transition House only challenges.”
When Transition House is full, staff has to turn people away and direct them to the warming room at the Cobourg Police station.
A meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 5, 2019 at 6 p.m. at Trinity United Church between area residents of Transition House and members of the Transition House Board.