Threats prompt calls for enhanced security at Ontario Works office

News source from CTV News

A recent spike in threats made to staff at the Ontario Works office in downtown Barrie has prompted the County of Simcoe to enhance security measures.

“In the public reception areas on the third and fourth floors, staff is increasingly dealing with outbursts, verbal escalation and threats, engaging with persons under the influence of substances and people who are loitering,” stated Ontario Works manager Wendy Hembruff in a staff report.

Often the incident requires police intervention.

In the report, Hembruff attributes the increase to the changing landscape of the area to the opioid crisis, and the challenging needs of those experiencing poverty, homelessness, addictions and mental health struggles.

“Substance use is evidenced through increased calls to police and support agencies as a result of increased mental health and addiction challenges in this downtown location.”

County staff is asking county council for $82,000 to procure full-time security guard services at the Barrie site for a one-year pilot project.

Councillors gave initial approval to the plan at the committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday.

“We recognize what has happened and feel it is our responsibility to put in some additional security,” said Simcoe County Warden George Cornell.

The Ontario Works office is located at 136 Bayfield Street and offers financial and employment services to residents.

The Barrie office serves a caseload of 3,047 benefit units as of March 31, 2019. This caseload represents 54 percent of the total 5,603 caseloads for the County of Simcoe.

The cost to contract security guard services is inclusive of taxes, which would be cost-shared 50/50 with the province as well as further cost-shared with Barrie and Orillia.

County council will have to ratify the decision at its meeting on June 25.

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