A message from Julie Watts, our Board Chairperson
I would like to respond to some comments made about the role of The Bridges with respect to the current fentanyl crisis; a crisis that is facing communities large and small across our nation.
The Bridges was built on the foundation and principle that all people have value, regardless of their mental health or current situation. A great deal of research and planning, in fact six years’ worth, was undertaken before the first shovel went into the ground. The Board and staff wanted to construct a facility that our community would be proud of, and that would serve the growing number of homeless individuals and families in Cambridge and North Dumfries. The citizens of Cambridge were very supportive, and helped us raise over $1.5 million to help build it. Surrounding neighbours and downtown businesses were consulted before the building was erected, and many of them sat on the Neighbourhood Advisory Committee that was struck.
When The Bridges opened in 2005, it was felt that its capacity of 40 emergency shelter beds for men and women, and 3 private units for families would be sufficient for at least ten years. Sadly, this was not the case and within five years of opening, more beds were needed to shelter the increasing numbers. Since The Bridges is the only fully accessible shelter in Waterloo Region, anyone needing shelter and using a wheelchair or other assistive devices is accommodated here. Since 2005, there has been an over 66% increase in the number of annual emergency shelter stays and 42% increase in the number of unique individuals requiring shelter and support. Unfortunately, a growing number are seniors. We have long been advocates for more affordable and supportive housing, and these numbers underline the dire need for more units in our region. The Bridges follows regional emergency shelter protocols, which includes transitioning all visitors from out of town back to their home community within 72 hours. Our priority remains serving our own vulnerable population which is large enough.
Since its inception, The Bridges has worked closely with the community, and has been extremely grateful for its support. “Those people” who are our clients are somebody’s brother, mother, sister, father, or grandparent. They deserve to be helped and respected, not to be judged. We provide over 30 programs, supports and services to help them move on with their lives. Many of our clients suffer from addiction, but 70% of those we help to get into alcohol and drug rehabilitation treatment are not clients of the shelter, but individuals referred by doctors, other agencies, and Waterloo Regional police. Addiction cuts across all social and economic strata.
To address the current fentanyl crisis will take hard work by many agencies, all levels of government, and the community as a whole. We are committed to being a part of the solution.
On behalf of our Board of Directors and our Executive Director, Christine Kecser, we would invite you to tour the shelter and to see our staff at work. We are proud of what we do.
Chairperson, Board of Directors
Cambridge Shelter Corporation