Daytime drop-in centre in Bridgewater raising concerns

A new daytime drop-in centre for homeless people in Bridgewater, N.S., is drawing attention — but not always the positive kind.

Some residents and businesses are expressing concerns about public safety and the mayor says crime is increasing but he says the services being provided by the John Howard Society's drop-in centre on King Street are crucial for the most vulnerable.

Bridgewater Mayor David Mitchell says that while there's been an increase in the number of police visits to the area, it's important not to associate everyone seeking support from the centre as part of the problem.

"Certainly from our police perspective, building relationships with the folks that are down there that are in need of help is important," Mitchell said Thursday.

"We need to be able to work with the John Howard Society, Department of Community Services, police resources, to be able to separate what is an addiction and mental health issue from those who are there for criminal activity."

There was no response to a request to Bridgewater police for further details and to confirm that calls are rising.

Bridgetown's mayor, David Mitchell, says he understands the concerns being expressed about rising violence but wants to avoid association of criminals exclusively with the drop-in centre.
Bridgewater Mayor David Mitchell says he understands concerns about rising violence but he wants to avoid associating it exclusively with the drop-in centre. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The drop-in centre, which began operating earlier this year, is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and offers support and services such as food, shower and laundry facilities, a lounge space and staff who try to guide people seeking income assistance and employment options.

Leisha Seymour, the executive director of the John Howard Society, said she also wants to see social workers and primary health care and mental health support on site.

Seymour said she has submitted a grant proposal to the province to get additional resources.

She said the organization wants to work with everyone in the community "to make sure that people feel safe and heard and supported."

But Seymour also hopes people in the community can understand how those in need of the John Howard Society's services benefit from the added support.

"Let's remember that people who are homeless are also much more likely to experience to [have] experienced extreme poverty … extreme trauma in their lives, have mental health and addictions and health barriers," she said. "So these are truly our most vulnerable, vulnerable members.

Mitchell said he recognizes that any solution to the issues must be achieved by working together.

"We're working with the John Howard Society and the provincial departments to find solutions. We can't solve it alone. They can't solve it alone. We have to solve it together," he said.

For residents who are homeless in a town facing housing issues similar to those being seen across the country, it has become a place of solace.

Bill Silver is among the homeless population in Bridgewater. He finds the centre helpful in making people feel positive despite their precarious living situations.

"That's one of the things about being homeless is it's very hard to feel human," said Silver. "But, you know, when we go into a place like the John Howard drop-in centre, we can make our own toast. You're allowed to go in there, sit and be human. There's no one belittling us."

'This is the last thing in the world they need'

But others say the presence of the drop-in centre is responsible for fights in the downtown area and harassment of passersby, and would prefer to see the centre relocate.

Ken Anthony, who lives next door to the centre, said he sympathizes with those who need help from the centre but he also worries about its impact on King Street.

"Downtown King Street, which we've been for years and years trying to revitalize ... we want the restaurants to succeed and a lot of them are struggling," he said. "This is the last thing in the world they need."

Despite the divided opinion over the drop-in centre, Silver is doing his part for the community by picking up trash off the streets. He credited his efforts to the John Howard Society.

"This is something John Howard really instilled in us … was that community matters," said Silver. "And for a lot of us, we feel as if we help our community by cleaning up the trash that's in the parks and stuff. Then the community sees that and they want to help us."