Bridge Integrated Care Centre, 1 Alhambra Square, Belleville

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by | Published , updated Mar 18, 2024

The Bridge Integrated Care Centre known as “The Bridge” or “The Hub” is operated by Bridge Street United Church and opened in May 2021.

It was initially meant for 15 people who needed to be off the streets because of COVID-19 restrictions. However, 3 years later, due to rising housing costs and the pandemic, that number has ballooned to 200. The City and The Bridge’s Program Directory have pointed out that the drop-in program has outgrown the church location.

With support from the City of Belleville, the program will be expanded to a 24/7, low-barrier community and health and social service treatment hub and moved to new location, the former Banquet Centre at 1 Alhambra Square in Belleville:

… it is a treatment hub. It’s not as some say just another warming room and a dining hall

Councillor Chris Malette

With support from the City of Belleville, it was developed and operated in partnership with:

  • John Howard Society of Belleville
  • Bridge Street United Church
  • Grace Inn Shelter
  • Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
  • Belleville and Quinte West Community Health Care
  • Enrichment Centre for Mental Health
  • CMHA Hastings Prince Edward

The Bridge hub meets the immediate needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, some of whom, are also experiencing substance abuse use harms and mental health issues while longer term system responses are implemented

Steve van de Hoef, director of Programs and Administration at Bridge Street United Church to reporters

It will provide wraparound services including:

  • Safety
  • Food
  • Showers
  • Longer-term needs such as addiction and mental health services

The concept of ‘The Bridge’ was developed by drop-in partners as a next step for the existing program to provide collaborative services to individuals in one location. The expanded hub would provide wrap-around services including health care, social services and other critical assistance for unhoused members of our community.

City of Belleville in a news release

Similar models have been successful in cities such as:

Why 1 Alhambra Sq?

After the need for a new location was identified, and the concept was developed by drop-in partners, the search for a facility to house the hub started. The former banquet hall at 1 Alhambra Sq. was selected by local service partners as the ideal location:

… that combination of an appropriate amount of inside space to house all the services that are necessary, space to deliver those services, including the drop-in space and health and social services as well as outdoor area that can be used as part of the program.

Steve van de Hoef

The drop-in centre now at Bridge Street United Church would be relocated away from the city core to the former two-storey, 10,000 square foot banquet hall at 1 Alhambra Hall to not only provide direly needed services but to provide relief for some downtown merchants given declining footfall by customers wary of the homelessness presence in the city core.

Derek Baldwin, The Intelligencer

Is this affecting our community? Yes. Is it affecting our business community? Yes. Is it affecting condos being built over there, and condos being there? Yes. What are we going to do in risk? We can kick this down the road the province doesn’t anything – 15 years [the Province] haven’t done anything about doctor recruitment. The risk we have is our downtown, our business, our condos being built.

we need a continue-of-care model, that’s what I am pressing for and hopefully we will get there. The Bridge is a low barrier, it is one of the most important things that will happen in continual care, 24 hours drop in. Your next stage will be a detox centre or a get-well centre with beds … we need that whole model.

I had as many people phone me and talk to me about wanting us to put this money in as I did [from those not wanting] to put it in. The ones that did not want to put in: “close the church, you’re feeding them too much, kick them out of town, 33% are from out of town town, why are you feeding them”, that’s what I’m getting from those people. You know, if they knew that in the economic development factor, the economic development that that church, in that spot, is costing us, is costing us way more than what we’re going to risk and invest in.

Mayor Neil Ellis

The John Howard Society of Belleville and ‘The Bridge’ Steering Committee will be doing the due diligence process to purchase the site and pending successful completion, will proceed with the design and construction of the hub.

Funding

The property was reportedly purchased by the City and donated to the John Howard Society. The City has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with John Howard Society which says that they City will get the property back if the project doesn’t go forward. Funds will not be released until a full business plan is in city hands.

At the beginning of 2024, the City of Belleville has committed to investing roughly $3 million for the expanded initiative:

  • $2 million from last year’s budget to purchase a former banquet hall
  • $1 million to renovate it

In February 2024, Council increased funding for The Bridge in the 2024 Operating Budget by $2M to a total of $3M, funded by 1% property tax increase in 2024 and 2025.

Belleville has requested funding support for The Hub project from the provincial government 3 times:

  • 1st time: May 2023 when council was approving funding for the hub project.
  • 2nd time: November 14, 2023, a week after Belleville saw 90 drug overdoses in one week.
  • 3rd time: February 12 the Mayor asked the Ontario government a for $2M investment in a community hub (“The Bridge”), as well as a local detox centre

Statements by stakeholders

Before [The Bridge] opened, we had nothing. Nowhere to go. And you get banned from everywhere

It’s just like home … It keeps us warm and safe.

So many of us would be dead right now if it wasn’t for them, myself included.

Brian Orford

Being able to provide health care and social services in one location is crucial to getting the most vulnerable members of our community the help and support they need. It is clear that the existing drop-in program requires additional space and resources to build on the great work they are doing and we, as a council, are proud to support that effort.

Mayor Neil Ellis

The idea is to provide services for people who are experiencing homelessness in our community and wrap around that health and social service care for them, building on the strength that they bring and addressing needs in their day-to-day life while supporting them to transition to a more stable life that includes goals that they set for themselves

The Bridge Hub meets the immediate needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, some of whom are also experiencing substance use harms and mental health issues, while longer-term system responses are implemented

We commend the City of Belleville for demonstrating decisive leadership in securing a new location for ‘The Bridge’ health and social service hub

Steve van de Hoef, director of programs and administration at Bridge Street United Church, where the John Howard Society operates a drop-in program called the Bridge Integrated Care Hub told The Intelligencer and Quinte News

Timeline

June 12, 2023 – Councillor statements regarding The Hub/Bridge project

We’ve heard time and time again and I’ve said this in this place, the continuum of care when it comes to individuals that are in a vulnerable state is critical. The proposal being put forward here with the Hub is a great example where you get those wrap around services.

I think it’s important to point out – Hastings County is our housing provider has done census in our community and majority of the individuals experiencing homelessness are individuals from this community.

I’ve read many times online that you know because we have a shelter, and we have a transition home, that these individuals are being bussed into our area. That’s an easy way to wash our hands of the problem and say well, gee, if we just stop that from happening we won’t have this problem in our community. That’s not the truth.

I spend a lot of time as we all do looking at other communities. There’s not a community in this province, not a community in this country, that isn’t experiencing affordability, food insecurity issues, and homelessness.

I think it’s important to point out that just because you’re homeless, you’re not mentally ill. Just because you’re homeless, you’re not a drug addict, and just because you’re homeless, you’re not a criminal. I think we have to take away those type of categories and labels. These are our friends, these are our neighbors, these are our residents in our community that may be going to work every day, and don’t have the ability to pay for rent, or their mortgage payment, and food.

There’s going to be a single mom home tonight that’s struggling to decide, do I feed the kids tonight, or do I put food in for tomorrow for school, or do I rely on the fact that we’ll eat tonight, but tomorrow we’ll go to school and the food for learning program will be there. These are the type of individuals that are looking for support, and that Hub just does that very thing.

The fact that we can provide these wraparound services, the continuum of care, whether it be the need for housing, whether it be the need for food insecurity, whether it be the need for medical care, there’s an opportunity here to have those resources available for references out to other community agencies.

We have a lot of agencies that come to council to present the efforts that they do and there’s a lot of non-profit groups that do just that. By having the Hub as a central place where people can get the support they need, is certainly something that’s positive. It’s being replicated in other communities with success, and I’ll certainly be supporting it today.

Councillor Paul Carr

Here in Belleville at the Warming Center we had 2910 visits between December 15th and March 31st. That sounds like well, that’s a whole lot of people. That was in reality a total of about 220 people over the course. Of those, about 80% of those people actually came sporadically, less than 25% of the number of days available.

One of the advantages of [The Hub] is that it becomes a permanent location for a Warming Center and that people going there will get the social assistance, the physical, the mental health, food, safety, security and trained staff who deal with this because these statistics that I provided to you was from Integrated Investigations who provides the security to all three of the warming centers in Hastings County.

Out of 2910 visits to the Warming Center in total there were only 18 incidences that were actually reported. We tend to amplify the 18 incidences and we do not amplify at all the number of occasions where things were perfectly calm.

Councillor Kathryn Brown, on The Hub

The importance of the The Hub can’t be can’t be overstated. Some some weeks ago myself and the director of Community and Human Services for the County traveled to Toronto and attended a first ever gathering of municipalities under the aegis of trying to get a handle on homelessness.

It was 225 municipalities and agencies that took part in this. One of the common themes, and in the end it was unanimous and everybody understands this. The solutions to the problems we’re seeing right now is a housing first solution, plain and simple housing first.

These unhoused people are not there by choice, they are not there by dint of the fact that they they have mental issues – yes they do, some – by the fact that they’re primarily drug addicts, no that’s not the case.

Just the the sheer complexity of the problem is too easy to put into one category of Us and Them. This Hub solution was touted by when I brought it up that we were considering this at this at this conference, I had no fewer than four other municipalities personally come to me on a break and offer me advice, invite the city of Belleville to visit their municipalities where they have a Hub operating, how to do it, what they’ve learned, what to do, what not to do.

The simple fact of the matter is that we will have a central location for all of these services.

It’s not so much that we’re drawing them away from one area because we need to draw them away. It’s not like we’re holding up a shiny object for some crows to follow, this is this is a very serious solution to getting all of the agencies that need to come together and help these people in one location. We’ve got to stop having little silos here and there and everywhere. This is one location where all of those services can effectively and in a coordinated fashion, deal with the problem that we have right now.

It was said I think in in one of the releases that this is not a solution. Well of course it’s not a solution. I go back to my initial statement: Housing is the solution. We have to get the housing situation sorted because all of this is stop gap.

There will be a day in not too distant future that we will be able to shut down the Hub, I hope. We won’t need it because we will be able to house the unhoused, we will have the proper services in place to look after them and in an effective manner, but until that day comes, we need, not just want, “we would think it’s a good idea” or “we’ll draw them away from the downtown”, we need this. We need this badly. The agencies that are going to work this will tell you we needed this yesterday. I can’t emphasize more how important an issue this is for this community and for the people of this community.

Councillor Chris Malette

I couldn’t agree more with the comments of my colleagues and just one thing that I wanted to add that really came out of the Homelessness Summit that we had a few months back.

A lot of the discussion was around things that the service provider needed to do for the community. Things like coordinated access, by name lists, some of those supports that are really the responsibility of the County and then through them of course, the province.

We had a few members from communities who had really put a dent in homelessness in their area and so after they were done speaking when there was a little bit of a break I went over to talk to them. I said what is it really that your municipal partners have been able to do to contribute to this fight against homelessness? We’re not the service provider, we’re not the province, what has actually been effective?

Really the resonating theme that came for them was landed buildings, was effectively what municipalities could do if you had vacant land, if you had vacant municipal buildings, or if you’re willing to get into the game of buying a building or funding an agency to buy one in order to contribute to the fight against homelessness. One of the things that I ran on in my campaign was being one of the municipalities that best handles the homelessness crisis because sometimes we set goals of 500 more beds in hospitals, but then we don’t have enough nurses.

This to me seemed to be the way to look at what are the best practices, what is fact-based and what is it that we can actually do in our community. I think that this is a great example of our municipality stepping up and really contributing to the fight against homelessness in an effective way. I want to thank everybody for their support of it, for our quick action on it, and looking forward to seeing this come to fruition very shortly.

Councillor Tyler Allsop

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