BARRIE, ONT. -- Outreach workers on the streets of Barrie and Orillia are trying to help those struggling with addiction during the pandemic.

Sarah Tilley and her team at The Gilbert Centre have expanded their outreach, along with community partners, the Canadian Mental Health Association and David Busby Centre.

“There are all sorts of people who are in pain right now and are using a variety of substances,” said Tilley, who is Gilbert Centre’s Harm-Reduction Co-ordinator.

“There are people who are suffering right now, and they need to be acknowledged as people who are trying to heal and trying to deal rather than people who are trying to cause problems.”

Tilley says a lack of access to virtual supports and resources during the pandemic has caused an increase in drug use and overdoses.

She and her team of support workers spent the day offering food, water, and medical supplies to those battling addiction, including the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone, hormone treatment and clean needles.

Tilley believes with access to mental health and harm-reduction supports limited to virtual settings, many are without proper treatment and care. Drug use and overdoses have increased during the pandemic, according to Tilley.

One man, named Justin, says he’s been sleeping outside the downtown Barrie library.

“Here, city hall, churches, in the forest,” he said.

The 23-year-old admitted he’s homeless and has nowhere else to turn with limited access to services.

Justin said homelessness and drugs go hand in hand and said he has seen many friends and loved ones overdose on drugs like fentanyl and heroin.

Staff at the Gilbert Centre said they have since offered outreach to Justin.

When asked why people are dying and overdosing from drugs, another man said, “There’s no housing. You can’t have a normal life without somewhere to live.”

A man walking along Bayfield Street at Dunlop Street in Barrie, named Andrew, saying he knows more than a dozen people who have died from a drug overdose, and he too has struggled with addiction.

“People need a more positive way to let the pain out instead of just self-harm.”

The Gilbert Centre plans to expand outreach in the coming weeks to Midland and Bracebridge.