Belleville’s innovative homelessness outreach program expands

A growing homelessness crisis is affecting many communities across Canada and Belleville, Ont., is no exception.

However, the friendly city has received recognition for an innovative program that seeks to bridge the gap between the unhoused and downtown businesses.

Belleville’s Downtown BIA introduced the ‘Welcoming Streets’ program 18 months ago.

Belleville has only one shelter but at last count, the municipality had approximately 200 unhoused individuals. Many of them had been experiencing difficulty connecting with services.

“Anything that they’re in need at that moment, even if it’s basic needs like getting a tent or a tarp or just some food, we help with all of that,” said Sara Behring the program’s coordinator.

The support provided through the program is ongoing even after an unhoused person finds a home.

They include fundamentals like relearning how to live in a home, find a job and access any other services an individual may need.

David Graham has struggled with homelessness and has taken advantage of the help offered through the program.

“They’ve helped me out with gloves, and I’ve went there and asked them for help for other people that would not go there.”

The program has also helped improve interactions between business owners and homeless persons which has led to a reduction in the number of calls to police.

“It’s nice knowing that they’re both available for us, for the businesses and for everyone that needs them as well,” said Emily Barnett, owner of Tropic Blends Cafe on Pinnacle street near Victoria Avenue.

The program was renewed for another year last November.

The $140,000 contribution from the city has allowed Welcoming Streets to expand and hire another outreach worker and other communities like Kingston are looking at starting a similar program of their own.

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