Along the shores of Kempenfelt Bay, the beautiful city of Barrie faces a serious issue. Opioid abuse is rising, and the entire county of Simcoe is experiencing a rise in homelessness. Marginalization is an issue combated by both provincial and federal governments with various initiatives being put in place. The City of Barrie aims to take this a step further and confront this issue at a municipal level. This is where the Connected Core initiative comes in.
Connected Core was inspired by the success of Guelph’s Welcoming Streets Initiative, an identical project that began in 2018. It is a pilot project created by the Shift Government initiative, an organization created by the Mayor’s office. Shift Government has created multiple pilot projects focused on solving the socio-economic issues Barrie faces. Connected Core focuses on creating outreach and aid programs for the marginalized while offering training programs for local businesses. The project is a collaboration between Shift Government and many of the businesses of Downtown Barrie.
Why does Barrie need Connected Core?
Barrie is among one of the most expensive places in the country to live. The average wage to afford housing in Barrie in 2018 was $18 an hour, well above the province’s minimum wage. This has lead to growing rates of homelessness across all of Simcoe County. Though the city has an affordable housing plan in progress, it is slated to be completed by 2024. At the writing of this article, the plan has accomplished 441 of their 840 planned accommodations.
Barrie stands out as Ontario’s third most prominent city when it comes to emergency room visits concerning overdoses. Following Oshawa and Brandford, Barrie has seen a 30% increase in opioid poisonings. On average, Barrie saw 77.1 emergency visits per 100,000 residents. In contrast, the provincial average was 54.6 per 100,000 residents. Barrie was even featured in a CTV feature story about fentanyl due to how much it has affected the area.
To preserve the beauty and growth of Barrie, it was clear the city had to take further steps. The federal and provincial plans needed to be bolstered to properly address the problem of growing marginalization in the city. Connected Core aims to offer a more focused approach, specifically tailored to the Barrie area. By working in association with local businesses, Connected Core provides assistance to those who need it. To do this, Connected Core has developed a variety of programs.
Connected Core Job Bank
One of the first steps many marginalized individuals need to take is obtaining employment. A reliable source of income creates a foundation that enables opportunity for further growth and independence. Though there is a strong desire to find employment, marginalized individuals face a variety of obstacles. These include;
- Lack of experience
Working experience is something many marginalized individual’s lack. Regardless of their age, many lack a highschool education or extensive work histories that would create opportunity for them.
One of the biggest challenges for marginalized individuals seeking employment is appearance-based discrimination. Without “professional” looking clothing or money for personal grooming, a marginalized individual is often overlooked by employers.
- Physical / Mental Health
Many marginalized individuals end up in their situation because of the obstacles created by mental or physical disabilities. These restrictions can prevent them from being able to perform certain tasks employers look for.
- Lack of access to transportation
Without access to a vehicle, the marginalized must depend on public transit for transportation. This restricts the area in which an individual can apply and when they can work.
- Personal History
Many marginalized individuals are held back by their personal history. It is common for businesses to do criminal background checks on potential employees. Any criminal charges could change an employer’s mind on an employee.
Connected Core has organized a job bank that provides job listings and training for those needing employment. This job bank is done in partnership with Georgian College who prepares individuals for employment. Georgian finds suitable jobs for each person and then helps to develop the skills required to succeed. They then stay in contact and follow up with employers, ensuring that the newly employed individual is settling well.
Community / Business Training Sessions
Despite the initiative by the City of Barrie, combating marginalization rates will take time. Many marginalized individuals find themselves fighting alcohol or drug addictions. Both of which are habits which require careful planning and dedication to stop. During this time, it is important to protect those trying to better themselves. To enable this, Connected Core organizes a variety of training sessions focused on de-escalation and emergency response.
For the general public, Connected Core offers an emergency response course dedicated to administering naloxone. Also known under the brand name Narcan in America, naloxone is a substance used in response to drug overdoses. When administered to someone suffering from an overdose, naloxone effectively clears the brain of drug-related substances. While not guaranteed, this has the potential of saving the drug user’s life. By offering this simple training to the public, Connected Core increases number of people who can effectively respond to life or death situations.
For businesses in Downtown Barrie, Connected Core’s de-escalation training sessions focuses on crisis prevention. By educating employees of Downtown businesses, Connected Core is establishing a primary defence against crisis situations. De-escalation focuses on verbally resolving conflicts that could grow into more serious issues. Many marginalized individuals suffer from mental health issues, or could be under the influence of a substance. Careful and unique methods of communication are required to defuse the situation properly.
Who is Connected Core's Chalmers Bot?
As another line of defence, Connected Core has created the Chalmers Bot. Chalmers is an online chat service that allows anyone to help or be helped. The automated chat-bot is accessible through the internet on computers or mobile phones and can geo-locate users. Users are then able to find nearby services or establishments that offer shelter, free meals, or free clothing. Job assistance is also offered, connecting those in need to the Connected Core job bank.
In an emergency crisis situation, Chalmers will first remind users to call 911 for proper assistance. Chalmers also provides links to crisis hotlines specializing in youth, women, LGBTQ, and mental health addiction. Through these hotlines, anyone in need will be able to find the help they are looking for.
Connected Core, overall, stands as Barrie’s own specialized tool to address the marginalization issue in the city. Right now it is a six month pilot project, but a successful six months could blossom into a permanent approach. If you are interested in Connected Core, you can follow us on social media or contact us for more information. If you have a job to post on the job board, you can fill out a form on our website to begin the process. Together, we can help those in need in our beautiful city. Get your Connected Core Designation today!