Today’s Northumberland got a first hand look at the system we have for a homeless person in distress.
It was shocking how the resources didn’t seem to be there for someone in need.
When it comes to after hours help – there is simply none.
And people that are in charge, may not have the experience or knowledge to deal with someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis.
The morning started for Today’s Northumberland at approximately 1:15 a.m. with a message from Jordan Stevenson. Stevenson is the Executive Director of the Buildx Community which is a non-profit organization having services for vulnerable and at-risk community members.
Stevenson said there was a person at The Warming Hub who had to sleep on the streets because she’d been banned for a week.
Speaking with the woman and learning about her experience – it’s certainly appears Northumberland County doesn’t understand the problems of homelessness.
Leaving security guards who likely don’t have the experience to deal with some of the events that take place at The Warming Hub leaves them at a disadvantage. It’s certainly no disrespect to the guards, but when dealing with a vulnerable population who have numerous problems – training and experience play a vital role.
Arriving at The Warming Hub and speaking with the woman who is 46-years-old and stands approximately five-feet-tall you can see the hardship in her face. She was cold and damp from the day and evening.
All she wanted to do was to have a place to sleep.
On Tuesday morning “Kim” said the security guards, “came and yelled at me at 6:30 a.m to wake-up.”
Kim said through tears she was so emotionally and physically exhausted that she was still groggy.
When she did wake-up it was 7:15 a.m. and one of the guards, “had got physical with the chair,” meaning he nudged the chair to wake her up.
But Kim comes from a long history of sexual abuse and has been traumatized her entire life. She also suffers from diabetes and says she is partially deaf.
The shaking of the chair she was sleeping in startled her, “and I didn’t know what to do. It scared me really bad.”
“They started telling me I had to get out and I wasn’t welcome back for 24-hours.”
Later she was told it was a week she wasn’t welcomed back.
Kim said that at the time her blood sugar was low and sometimes act like you’re intoxicated.
Kim said she doesn’t do illegal drugs which was also corroborated by several people who deal with the woman.
(Note: Kim never had a alcoholic drink or took any time of drug for the entire time Today’s Northumberland was present which was approximately two hours).
“I have no where to go,” said Kim standing on the sidewalk outside The Warming Room on College Street.
Kim said she want’s to work, but needs a stable home and some place to have a shower and clean clothes.
Banned for seven days, helpless and distraught, Kim said, “I don’t know where I’m going to go or what I’m going to do.”
A supervisor with K-9 Security came up and spoke with Kim and said the reason she was on a seven day “discharge” was because she was being “rude and disruptive” and made an accusation towards one of the guards.
“It’s also seven days because management, who ultimately gets to decide what to do, has time to discuss it and put it through a review.”
Kim accused a guard of hitting her when he woke her up yesterday morning.
“On the video, he gently rocked the chair to try and wake you up.”
Program Director with Buildx, Maggie Robbins questioned the guard about Kim’s needs may be to complex to be utilizing a space like The Warming Hub.
“It’s honestly way above my pay grade to say anything,” said the guard.
“In this particular situation we have this extremely vulnerable woman who has very complex needs medical needs that is now going to be unhoused for seven days – what do we do in these situations?”
Robbins said in a case like Kim’s she’s not allowed to stay at the police station, at the hospital, at The Warming Hub, and at Transition House.”
The guard said, ultimately the ban could be shortened.
“We go off of what we’ve been told, past scenarios and some of it does rely on our desecration as well.”
When Stevenson asked the guard if he had training in mental health intervention, the guard replied, “I’m not going to answer that.”
So Stevenson and Robbins next stop was the Cobourg Police Station to see what assistance they could offer.
Calling Owen Sound Dispatch who deals with Cobourg Police calls, they stated, with Kim being banned from The Warming Hub, “there is not much more police are going to be able to do,” the dispatcher said.
An officer came out to speak with the two who were trying desperately to find a warm place for Kim to sleep.
Going through the circumstances with the officer he said, “I wish I had the golden answer, I just personally don’t what other resources can be offered at this time. That’s above my pay grade.”
The officer said the best advice he could give was offer a daytime referral to Mheart (Mental Health Engagement and Response Team) for the daytime.
But as Robbins stated, “when do the crisis situations happen?”
The conversation turned to a person being “formed” or apprehended under the Mental Health Act for their own safety.
“If I could just look at her and take her to the hospital, but once we’re at the hospital, and this is just the reality of it, and they display no signs of harm for themselves, the doctor is going to say, “you’re well and able to go out.”
The officer stated, “it’s a very frustrating cycle believe me.”
“Where you’re trying to find a solution – I wish I had that solution right now and I hate giving that answer.”
It was clear the officer was sympathetic to the situation and even apologized he couldn’t do more.
Today’s Northumberland did two video interviews with Stevenson during the evening.
One took place at 1:47 a.m. in the alcove of St. Peter’s Church where there was light.
Halfway through the interview a K-9 Security supervisor kicked us off the church property where just moments prior there was a person with his head on the pavement appearing to be in a comatose state. The guard didn’t check on the individual at any time. Shortly after that one was chasing the another making death threats, but nothing was stated to those individuals.
“She is the definition case of complex case of homelessness. Right now what we’re seeing is the system taking her in, chewing her up and spitting her out,” said Stevenson.
“And leaving her worse off because of it.”
Moments later the security guard told us, “you can’t be on the property here.”
And told us we’d have to go to the sidewalk because that is what the church wanted.
The interviewed continued off church property with Stevenson stating, “one organization runs it all for overnight services and that organization is not equipped for anything that’s going on.”
Stevenson said based on his research and the experience of Robbins, “it’s every agency for themselves. They seem to be so tight-lipped with each other that nobody shares data. This is probably the worst County in the Province for dealing with homelessness.”
“It’s appalling how this is being dealt with. You have no data sharing, you have no trained individuals overnight, you have mental health episodes that are not being dealt with correctly because these guys do not have the training to handle it. If somebody has a crisis, they don’t deal with it, they kick them off property and tell them to go deal with it themselves and that is absolutely unacceptable. The reality is we have tons of people sleeping on the streets because the services in Northumberland are ineffective and not equipped to deal with complex cases.”
Looking ahead Stevenson said everyone they dealt with early Wednesday morning wanted to help, but there were no solutions in place.
“The crazy part is we’re now jumping into 310 Division Street run by the same people that can’t run a warming room. And yet we’re expected to believe this will be the be-all, end-all Whereas somebody like “Kim” got restricted from there, we are back to square one because it’s the same agency that’s causing these issues and doesn’t know how to run services.”
Stevenson said the County has brought it down to Security Guards deciding who does and doesn’t sleep on the streets.
“The County Executive team can say everything is fine and dandy when in reality you’ve brought it down to a security guard who has to decide if this person has to sleep on the streets. Because they’re not equipped to deal with it. They’re not crisis counsellors. We are on the brink of total collapse with this system. It’s total patchwork. The County executive either has to move on or step up and work on fixing it.”
“Spend the night out on the streets. See the reality what we’re dealing with – day-in and day-out.”
In the end Kim was driven to Port Hope to the fish cleaning station, but it turned out it is even closed overnight.
She was eventually placed at the encampment where she is now residing.