Homeless numbers still ‘concerning’

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The need for emergency shelter – exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – rose 42 per cent in Chatham-Kent in 2020.

The information, part of a municipal report on homelessness, was released to council at Monday’s meeting.

According to the document, an average of 114 individuals were housed each month with an average stay of 14 nights.

Polly Smith, director of employment and social services for Chatham-Kent, said the number peaked in November, but has since decreased.

“It’s going back down slowly and gradually,” said Smith. “But it’s still very concerning.”

There were 373 individuals in total need of emergency shelter in 2020. Of those, 39 were released from jail, 21 came from the hospital, 15 were related to domestic abuse and 131 were due to family breakdown.

A total of 23 families, including 43 children, were given help.

The problem was compounded by a rise in rental costs and a shortage of available units, with average rental costs going up 48 per cent in the five-year span from 2015 to 2020.

The most recent data indicates that 28 per cent of Chatham-Kent residents spent more than a third of their income on housing in 2020.

According to the report, 17 per cent of people in the municipality are considered low income. The median household income in Chatham-Kent is $58,185, compared to $74,287 for the rest of Ontario.

Chatham-Kent public housing currently has 694 units in its portfolio; however, there are 719 adults on the wait list, within the 18-to-64-year-old demographic.

Community navigators, hired to assist local residents facing shelter issues, were able to help clients access government supports. They assisted people with issues such as income tax and child tax credits, helping put $444,000 back into the pockets of local residents.

The municipality also put money towards keeping 487 households off the street. Chatham-Kent spent $286,800 to help with rent and utility arrears, and also put forward $131,956 in rental deposits to help people secure housing.

A total of $63,691 was spent by the municipality, to assist with short-term housing.

Smith said there were many lessons learned during the pandemic, which will help address problems in the future.

“We’ve been able to do things a little differently,” Smith said. “We changed some things.”

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