By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
R.O.C.K. Missions is about to take a bigger role in homelessness outreach within the municipality.
At its Sept. 26 meeting, Chatham-Kent council approved a proposal to hire R.O.C.K. employees to conduct on-the-ground outreach on a part-time basis.
The 18-month contract is valued at approximately $190,000 and will be paid for through the economic downtown reserve for housing-focused outreach services. The money was earmarked by the municipality for that purpose in December of 2021.
According to Polly Smith, director of employment and social services for Chatham-Kent, they money will be spent on setting up supports to help people find housing.
One of the goals of the project, she said, is to make sure everyone who is unhoused or “sleeping rough” is counted by name.
“We want to make sure that those who have been missed are able to connect with services,” Smith explained.
In response to a question from South Kent Coun. Clare Latimer about keeping track of problem calls and encampments, Smith said outreach is about “supporting people,” not enabling encampments.
Smith said a new internal committee is being put together to deal with the issue of encampments formally, and the municipality is also looking at using software to identify where encampments are located.
Chatham Coun. Karen Kirkwood-Whyte said she is “extremely pleased” to support the R.O.C.K. Missions contract and gave kudos to the way non-profit agencies came together to tackle homelessness during the pandemic.
“I’m happy with the work R.O.C.K. Missions has done since its formation,” she told council.
Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew thanked Smith for the report but wanted to stress the new project is not about enforcement.
“This is not about that,” Crew said. “This is about supports. Building trust is huge.”
Currently, the ballpark cost for a one-bedroom single apartment in Chatham-Kent is about $800. However, a person receiving social assistance gets $733 a month and someone on Ontario disability support gets about $1,100.
Smith said the situation makes for an “extremely tight and impossible” budgeting for Chatham-Kent’s vulnerable residents.