Council investigates homeless options

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Homelessness in C-K isn’t going away, however, municipal council is looking at new ways to tackle the problem.

Future solutions could include building a new shelter to include congregate living spaces, or creating a transitional tiny homes complex that would repurpose shipping containers into emergency housing.

Following a lengthy report by administration on housing and homelessness, council unanimously approved a motion from South Kent Coun. Anthony Ceccacci directing staff to examine all the options and report back to council in January.

Ceccacci’s motion specifies that a new shelter should not be located adjacent to elementary schools, licensed child care centres, splash pads, wading pools; not in parks or directly adjacent to parks, and not within the interior of a residential neighbourhood.

Ceccacci said the concept of the motion recognizes that Chatham-Kent is “never going to have a perfect location” for a shelter or services for vulnerable residents with mental health and addiction problems.

“We are going to task administration with doing the absolute best that they can to find a location that suits the needs of people who are experiencing the most challenging times of their lives,” Ceccacci said, noting the needs of neighbours surrounding a proposed location must be considered as well.

Although it’s still a ways off, an alternative site to the current Victoria Park Place (VPP) emergency shelter in Chatham must be found, as the lease for the Murray Street location ends in May 2025.

The need for emergency shelter continues to mount. According to Kim Crew, C-K’s homelessness prevention manager, a total of 187 people were on the homeless by name list as of Nov. 6, with 42 of those housed at the VPP shelter. The list indicates there are 71 people living rough, or living outdoors.

Constructing a new shelter is estimated to cost $2.5 million, Crew said, and would include congregate living areas and space for life skills education. The tiny homes option, at 100 sq. ft. per cabin, can be built for between $35,000 and $50,000 each for a total cost of $1.75 million. A common building would be part of the cabin-style initiative as well.

“The stage we are at now is we are finalizing some estimated capital and operational costs while looking at municipally owned land to determine feasible options for these potential programs to present to council,” Crew said.

Council also learned the “level of need” of the homeless population is increasing, according to C-K housing director Josh Myers.

Myers told council that 295 people have utilized the shelter so far in 2023. Of those, 15 were seniors over age 65, while 18 were unaccompanied youth.

Normally, Myers said the number of people accessing the shelter drops off in the summer months but that didn’t happen this year.

“On any given night in Chatham-Kent there are 60 plus people who don’t have anywhere to go,” Myers explained.

A second motion by Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew to lobby Premier Doug Ford and the province to increase income supports for people receiving Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program was also approved by council.

“We need to send a very strongly worded letter to the province to help address this systemic problem,” Crew told council. “This isn’t going to be the answer but it’s going to help people in legislated poverty to at least have a chance.”

At present, individuals on Ontario Works receive $390 a month for housing, while those on ODSP are allotted $556 for shelter. The average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in C-K is now $1,283 per month.

Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy said the letter is a good idea but it’s likely to fall on “deaf ears,” as it’s asking the government to triple the amount of its supports.

Council also heard two deputations on the homelessness issue. The first came from Loree Bailey, general manager of Hope Haven, the other from Clark Shultz, a representative of the Tecumseh Park Neighbourhood Association.

Bailey said visits to the facility’s day program have risen dramatically over the past two years, going from 12,050 in 2021 to 19,000 in 2022. Bailey said the number of visits in 2023 will likely hit the 25,000 mark.

In his deputation, Shultz asked council to undertake public consultation regarding the location of a new shelter. He said the Tecumseh Park neighbourhood residents are now living with the “disastrous results” of having VPP located there.

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