A kind gesture for the homeless from the Town of Cobourg took a sudden turn that left advocates shocked after numerous homeless people were evicted from the bus shelter in downtown on Monday afternoon.
On Saturday, November 19, 2022, the Town of Cobourg opened up the bus terminal for a number of homeless people with no where to go after a blinding snowstorm hit the area.
An advocate for the less fortunate, Missy McLean could see how bad the weather was on Saturday, with blowing snow causing white-out conditions.
She contacted the Town of Cobourg to see if anything could be done. Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty, CAO Tracey Vaughan, Cobourg Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf, Cobourg Fire Chief Ellard Beaven agreed that the bus terminal was the best place for the people on a temporary basis.
Volunteers helped staff the terminal while people came and left during the overnight hours.
Sunday evening brought the same temperatures along with more snow so it was decided the people would be allowed to stay in the terminal.
On Sunday evening 25 people came through the door of the bus terminal. Nine of those individuals stayed the entire night.
On Monday, with a number of people still inside the terminal, Today’s Northumberland reached out to Northumberland County for comment about what took place over the weekend.
The overnight warming room at St. Peter’s Anglican Church on College Street won’t be open until December 5.
Lisa Horne, Director of Community & Social Services for Northumberland County said, “Transition House Shelter continues to be the primary resource in place for individuals in our community seeking emergency shelter services.”
Horne said there were seven spaces available in Transition House on Saturday and four on Sunday to support vulnerable members of the community.
In some cases people have been banned from Transition House for various lengths of time.
“A client’s access to shelter accommodations may be temporarily restricted due to a particular incident or behaviour. During this period, diversion supports would remain available (transportation to family/friend/alternate accommodations; food supports; referrals to other community services.”
“We applaud the Town of Cobourg for also making the bus shelter available as an alternate location where people could take shelter from the cold that evening. Engagement from all corners of the community is vital to address local need.”
But shortly before 3 p.m. a number of Cobourg Police Officers along with by-law officers arrived at the bus terminal and demanded the people leave the premises along with their belongings.
“You try and keep your kids and wife alive – that’s what I’m doing,” said one person who was being evicted to an officer.
“When everybody gets so desperate they’re kicking peoples from doors in – remember – it’s you,” the man said looking at police.
“It’s you guys. Forcing people to do what they have to do to survive.”
“Instead of kicking people out – come up with a solution. Something that works.”
The man told Today’s Northumberland that he was kicked out of Transition House for having a cane.
At approximately 6:30 p.m. Today’s Northumberland spoke with McLean about the drastic change and the removal of people from the bus terminal.
On Monday morning McLean spoke of the “grass roots community care collaboration” between concerned citizens and the Town of Cobourg to mobilize an emergency warming room at the bus terminal.
Eight hours later, “the town staff decided they had to close the bus shelter at 8 p.m. People were evicted. Even folks that had been sheltering during the day for weeks, as soon as the cold weather hit. And we don’t have an alternative option or any other support happening from the town or the county to meet the need that we know exists – because we just need it for two nights in a row.”
McLean says outright she understands the “tension” between the lower tier (Cobourg) and upper tier (Northumberland County) municipalities responsibilities.
“Where I don’t care about who is responsible for things – is when folks are left out in the cold without access to washrooms and suffer the indignity of being forced to sleep on wet, dirty floors with no furniture to sit on. And that we’re supposed to be thankful and grateful for that.”
McLean said she was grateful for the shelter provided over the weekend, but found the eviction on Monday afternoon “unacceptable.”
“It prioritizes the safety and security of the Corporation of the Town of Cobourg at the expense of those that are the most marginalised in the community and have to sleep in the cold tonight.”
McLean said there are no public bathrooms in the downtown overnight for the homeless for at least 12 hours.
McLean also added that even though there is space at Transition House, “the vast majority of the folks that were accessing shelter at the emergency warming room the past two nights, the vast majority of folks who are sheltering at bank vestibules and under stairwells, they aren’t eligible to access those beds.”
“People need choices about where they lay their head at night. You don’t get a choice about who you share a room with. So you very well could be finding yourself sharing a room with someone who has caused you harm. Or maybe you’re part of a couple and you can’t share a room if you’re a couple at Transition House. And maybe there is less beds for women as there are for men. So maybe only one of those partners can get a bed at Transition House. Is one partner going to chose to leave their other partner out in the cold?”
A press release from the Town of Cobourg issued on Monday afternoon stated in part, “due to cold temperatures, high winds and blowing snow, the Town of Cobourg extended the hours of operation at the Downtown Bus Terminal to offer temporary respite.”
“In response to a request from local citizen volunteers, the Town of Cobourg opened a temporary respite centre, located at the Downtown Bus Terminal at 35 Albert Street for those who were caught off guard and unable to attain alternative shelter that evening.”
McLean was incensed the release stated, “for those who were caught off guard and unable to attain alternative shelter.”
“That is blaming folks who are homeless,” said McLean.
“That is responsibilizing the most marginalized members of our community.”
Resources should have been available so people, including seniors wouldn’t have to sleep on a cold, wet floor.
“This was a health and safety risk. It met an emergency need in the moment. It shouldn’t have happened for two nights. We did it for one night. We should have come up with a better solution the second night. But that didn’t come forward, so the volunteers mobilized again.”
“It’s not that they closed the bus shelter from sheltering options – it’s that they didn’t provide a suitable alternative.”
“They just took it away.”
The Town of Cobourg is prepared to respond to Extreme Weather conditions with temporary warming shelters during regular office hours.
Buildings that are open to the public can be used at any time during regular office hours.
Residents are welcome and encouraged to access these places should they require temporary refuge:
• Victoria Hall, 55 King St W, Cobourg will be open 9am-4:30pm, Monday – Friday
• Police Station, 107 King St W, Cobourg will be open 8am-8pm, 7 days a week
• Library 200 Ontario St, Cobourg will be open, Monday to Wednesday 10am-8pm, Thursday – Saturday 10am-5pm, and Sunday 1pm-5pm
• Cobourg Community Centre 750 D’Arcy St, Cobourg 7am-11pm 7 days a week
Those with immediate needs are encouraged to access emergency shelter and diversion supports through Transition House Shelter by visiting the shelter at 10 Chapel Street, Cobourg or calling 905-372-9562.