The Municipality of Chatham-Kent’s Employment and Social Services division opened a temporary shelter this morning for the homeless in our community.
Officials said the need for the shelter increased over the last month when individuals who were previously couch surfing were forced into absolute homelessness due to the pandemic.
As well, Hope Haven men’s shelter has closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The shelter opened at the Exhibition Hall of the municipally owned John D. Bradley Convention Centre located at 565 Richmond St. in Chatham.
The shelter is operated by municipal staff for the time being.
Intake of new residents is available seven days a week, between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., where individuals are proactively screened for COVID-19 and suitability for the shelter.
After-hours support is continuing to be offered by the Homeless Response Line. Individuals can reach the line by calling 519-354-6628.
The shelter has beds available for any person in need who is able to manage safely in a congregate environment.
Any person unable to stay, regardless of the reason, will be assisted with alternative options and support, according to municipal officials.
Municipal staff said the previous placement solution could not meet the rising demand across the community.
“Our department has already assisted 50 individuals with emergency accommodations this month so far,” Polly Smith, Director of Employment and Social Services for the municipality, said in a media release. “In March alone, the number of requests for emergency housing increased by nearly 45 per cent. The current process was just not able to keep up. We needed something that was going to allow for less community members to fall through the cracks and go without, and we knew we needed it quickly.”
Once the province announced Social Services Relief Funding, Employment and Social Services personnel began scouting out locations, ordering equipment and supplies, and connecting with community and municipal partners.
“Many factors came into play when choosing the best location,” Smith said. “This location was chosen as it was large enough to accommodate up to 55 beds and allowed for all of the appropriate public health measures, like physical distancing, to be followed.”
Employment and Social Services staff, alongside redeployed municipal employees, are operating the centre until a more long-term solution is in place.
The Exhibition Hall location is expected to be used for up to two months until a longer-term lease agreement in another location can be confirmed.
Municipal officials said the opening of this shelter would free up motel rooms that can be used for individuals with special circumstances who are safer outside of a communal setting.
“Opening an emergency shelter from scratch, during a pandemic is no small feat,” Smith said. “But, with thanks to dedicated staff in Building Services, Public Health, Fire, our community partners and local vendors including architects and engineers, and their willingness to work together, the team was able to open in just a few weeks’ time. Help can never come fast enough in a crisis like this, but we feel confident that the support we are providing is the safest and the most appropriate support we can provide our community members in need at this time.”
In the coming weeks, residents of the centre will be assisted with additional services, including securing housing, employment, healthcare and mental health and addictions support thanks in a large part to community partners.
United Way of Chatham-Kent is co-ordinating food deliveries for those who are vulnerable outside of the shelter in partnerships with numerous groups and organizations.
Chatham-Kent Employment and Social Services offers income, employment and homelessness prevention supports and resources to the people of Chatham-Kent. For more information on the department’s full range of services, visit www.chatham-kent.ca/ess or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CKEandSS/ .