Lambton County approves hiring of homelessness prevention supervisor

Homeless man. (Photo courtesy of Downtown Mission)

The County of Lambton is working on a strategy to manage and dismantle homeless camps that could surface as the weather warms up.

Social Services General Manager Valerie Colasanti told county council they’ve seen a 200 per cent increase in the number of homeless individuals since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last year.

“We have realigned our services over the last several months to move individuals into community support rolls, to work one-on-one with the individuals living in our overflow shelter,” said Colasanti. “We have a number of housing rent supplements in place, and other services that we’re putting in place, to move individuals.”

She said they’re working very closely with the Canadian Mental Health Association to move individuals into their programming.

“One of the things that we’re lacking in our community is the additional supports for those with mental health and addictions. But, by realigning the work that the Ontario Works caseworkers are doing, to help them do a little bit more of intensive case management with this population, we are starting to see people exiting our overflow shelter system. We are starting to see people get employment where they’re able to, so we’re hoping to continue with this intensive case management.”

Council approved Colasanti’s request to hire one, permanent, full-time Ontario Works supervisor to focus on homelessness prevention.

“We really require someone who has strong skills in homelessness prevention to lead the team in finding permanent housing and stability for this group.”

She said it’s challenging to keep individuals hired under contract for long periods of time and provincial dollars from Ontario Works will be realigned to accommodate the position, estimated to cost $120,000 a year.

“If we do start to receive a reduction in our Ontario Works budget, we would look to attrition for staffing, we would also look to the increase that we are receiving in federal funding. So, we do not anticipate there would be any increase to the county levy, due to this change.”

Colasanti said they’re working to strengthen relationships with landlords so individuals can be moved once spaces become available.

Earlier this year, the county received nearly $2.3 million from the province to extend hotel and motel stays for residents in need of emergency shelter during the pandemic.

Based on current capacity, Colasanti expects those dollars to cover costs until October.