County gets nearly $2.3M to address pandemic-related homelessness

Inn of the Good Shepherd's Lodge. ( photo by Meghan Bond)

The County of Lambton is getting nearly $2.3 million from the province to extend hotel and motel stays for residents in need of emergency shelter during the pandemic.

Social Services General Manager Valerie Colasanti said it’s the third installment from the Social Services Relief Fund to support the physical distancing of shelter residents and those at risk of becoming homeless.

“Due to the pandemic, individuals who normally would remain housed are really struggling financially and with other challenges, so we have seen an increase in the homeless population in our community,” said Colasanti. “We have a process in place where we divert people. We work with them very closely to see if there’s anywhere they can go so they don’t end up in our shelter system.”

Colasanti said the county works in partnership with the Inn of the Good Shepherd’s Lodge, and right now just over 200 individuals have been placed in the overflow shelter system.

“We do need to have some individuals in isolation and when COVID first started, we had to reduce the numbers of individuals staying at the lodge, because with congregate settings, they’re very close. So, we had to reduce those numbers to half, which is why we had to rely so much on motels. So, certainly once this population and the rest of the population receive the vaccine, we would be able to move people back from motels into the lodge, or many of them.”

She said they also work to rehouse individuals.

“We work with housing caseworkers, who try to find people apartments, to work with them on what is it that they need to become rehoused. We also work very closely with the Canadian Mental Health Association to assist people to find housing as well.”

Colasanti said the funds will also be used to hire more shelter staff, purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies and increase rent and utility banks, which help prevent more people from becoming homeless.

“People just need to call the social service office to have a conversation with a worker about that.”

The $2,278,922 in funding, announced Wednesday, is part of the province’s $255 million investment through the Social Services Relief Fund.

The County of Lambton has received almost $7 million so far.

The Shepherd’s Lodge, on Confederation Street in Sarnia, is currently in outbreak with six residents and three staff having tested positive for COVID-19.