Bradley Convention Centre opens doors to homeless in CK

April 29 2020. (Photo via Municipality of Chatham-Kent)

A temporary emergency homeless shelter is finally open in Chatham.

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent made the announcement Wednesday morning after noticing an increase over the past month when “couch-surfers” were forced out onto the streets due fears around the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shelter is now open at Exhibition Hall at the John D. Bradley Convention Centre located at 565 Richmond Street in Chatham.

The shelter will be operated by municipal staff until a longer-term solution can be found and will accept new homeless residents seven days a week, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Director of Employment and Social Services Polly Smith said individuals are screened for COVID-19 and to determine if they’re suitable for the shelter. She added after-hours support is continuing to be offered by the Homeless Response Line at 519-354-6628.

The Employment and Social Services division said the shelter has beds available for any person in need who is able to manage safely in a “congregate environment.” Social services said any person unable to stay, regardless of the reason, will be assisted with alternative options and support.

Smith said the need was recognized early and added the previous system would not meet the rising demand across the community.

“Our department has already assisted 50 individuals with emergency accommodations this month so far,” Smith said. “In March alone, the number of requests for emergency housing increased by nearly 45%. 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.”

Smith said her staff began scouting out locations, ordering equipment and supplies, and connecting with partners once the province announced relief funding.

“Many factors came into play when choosing the best location,” said Smith. “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.”

The shelter is expected to be used for one to two months until an agreement in another location can be confirmed.

The municipality said opening this shelter will 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,” explained Smith. “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 week’s 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.”

Residents of the temporary shelter will also be assisted with securing housing, employment, health care, and mental health and addictions support over the coming weeks thanks in a large part to community partners. United Way of Chatham-Kent is also coordinating 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/.