Efforts are ongoing to find solutions to homelessness in CK

File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Bialasiewicz

Recent provincial funding to help protect the most vulnerable people from COVID-19 will continue to be spent on the most essential local programs, according to the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.

CK Director of Employment and Social Services Polly Smith said 50 homeless people are provided emergency housing in motel rooms at any given time and that is funded through this program. Smith added some of the funding is also used for rent supplements to make private market rental units affordable for lower-income people and further funding is earmarked for feeding programs through the winter.

“This is expected to a serious concern despite all of the excellent work done by groups like May 16th Miracle, Free Help CK, Rock Missions, Street Friends, Hope Haven, Neighbourlink, Salvation Army, United Way and the Prosperity Round Table,” said Smith.

On Monday, Chatham-Kent Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls announced $761,289 in extra social services relief funding to assist those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in Chatham-Kent until March 31, 2021. Smith said another shelter is not in the plans at this time because people using local motel services find it preferable and it is “no more expensive to operate per person”.

“One hotel location is staffed for higher need individuals, and staff do visits at other motels to check on needs and provide help finding permanent housing,” Smith added. “These services continue to be very busy, despite an average of 18-20 homeless people being permanently housed each month and the Ontario Works caseload experiencing a decline.”

She said low social assistance rates and wages, high rental rates, and increased unmanaged mental illness as well as addictions appear to be behind the homeless problem that is occurring across the province and the country. An emergency shelter was open in Chatham-Kent in April to manage the sudden increase of homeless people who had nowhere to go to safely isolate after the COVID-19 pandemic began but it closed in September and all individuals were moved to local hotels and motels.

Smith also said Employment and Social Services is working closely with several community partners to maximize available resources, avoid duplication of services, and reach out to everyone who needs help.

“There is no lack of effort or creativity in finding solutions to homelessness in this community. There is a lack of supportive housing, and the right supports available and the community stakeholders are advocating for these changes,” Smith said. “It is hoped that Federal homelessness-related funding, will enable partners in Chatham-Kent to build or convert larger building(s) into supportive and transitional housing options. This will enable individuals with their health needs and stay safely housed long term.”

Employment and Social Services said Chatham-Kent has at least 149 people on the homeless list but community partners believe that number could be more like 300 with couch surfing and unsafe accommodations. It’s believed about 25 people are living in rough conditions, mostly outside and Employment and Social Services and community partners are planning winter warming stations to provide safe places across the municipality for people who need them to stay warm and have a meal during extreme weather.