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'Good feeling': Barrie retiree helps feed residents at downtown mission

'There are ideas out there (to address homelessness), things that are being done. I would like to think that this is not hopeless,' says Salvation Army Bayside Mission Centre volunteer
Robert Sykes volunteers at the Salvation Army Bayside Mission Centre in downtown Barrie to feed the shelter residents.

BARRIE, Ont. – Local volunteer Robert Sykes has been very busy feeding residents of the Salvation Army Bayside Mission Centre in downtown Barrie.

“I'm there from 10 o'clock in the morning until one o'clock doing anything from cleaning up from breakfast to helping whatever the cook needs to prepare for lunch. And then getting things cleaned up for dinner,” Sykes, or just Bob to most, tells BarrieToday.

Bob says there is a current lack of volunteers to help with the dinner shift from 3-6 p.m.

“Sometimes she (the cook) trains one or more residents to help her, but, of course, residents come and go. So, it's an ongoing issue," he says. 

Bob says he knows quite a few of the residents and finds it gratifying to talk to them a little bit on a daily basis, and to make them smile during difficult times.

“I felt giving them a good meal helps them anyway," he says. "When I leave there at the end of the day, I have a good feeling that they get some help. And I get a little bit of satisfaction as well.”

A Salvation Army volunteer since 2010, Bob says that, in the past, the centre used to be open for meals for all the homeless.

“Oftentimes, we had a complete family. But sometimes it would be mothers with their children, and we served them first to make sure that they were looked after," he says. 

Bob remembers that he and his volunteer colleagues sometimes gave the mothers money for a taxi to get them back to where they were going with their children, rather than leave them outside in the cold and dark.

“We didn't always do that, but we did it more than once because they were really sad cases," he says. "We just wanted to help them any way we could.”

Bob notes that, as of the end of March 2023, the Salvation Army Bayside Mission Centre is not feeding the homeless anymore.

“Unfortunately, it's a funding issue. But there's still lots of work to be done only to feed residents here, which are anywhere from 40 to 48 people, depending on who's in and who's out at any time," he says.

Fortunately, there are other organizations, such as Youth Haven and the Busby Centre, that are trying to fill in the gaps in services here in Barrie, he adds.

“But even more important is having a place to go at night, instead of sleeping outside," Bob says. "This would go a long way to fixing the problem. They still have to eat, but if you have your own place to go to, it would be emotionally and mentally so much better for them.”

Bob says he once gave money to a man who told him that he lived in a shed and used propane cylinders to keep himself warm at night.

“He needed to have the cylinders on a really cold night at the cost of $11 each. If he had a place to go at night, then he could potentially get a job down the line.”

Bob remains hopeful for a future solution for homelessness as new approaches emerge in some European countries.

“They get them into shelter and then they have a whole group of individuals that will help them physically, mentally and socially," he says. “We're not there yet, but hopefully we're working towards that.

"There are ideas out there, things that are being done. I would like to think that this is not hopeless.”

For more information about volunteer positions with the Salvation Army Bayside Mission Centre, contact Kelli Kane, volunteer and special events co-ordinator, at 705-728-3737, ext. 259, or [email protected].