Lambton councillors want public input on homelessness, affordable housing

Homeless man collecting money on the street. © Can Stock Photo / Bialasiewicz

Lambton County councillors believe more public input is needed to help combat homelessness and a need for affordable housing locally.

During Wednesday’s regular council meeting, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley proposed county staff solicit public input on the county’s homelessness and housing efforts through electronic means — councillors overwhelmingly supported the motion.

Bradley suggested hosting the session in January, using the Sarnia Speaks model, and including a report on the discussion during council’s February meeting.

Bradley said he recently heard from citizens that there’s a potential new shelter coming into the city, which they were informed about last week.  He said it’s frustrating to learn from the public what’s happening in your own community.

“I’m not opposed to having another shelter in the city, we need it.  But the lack of dialogue with the elected people in their communities — I believe this happened in Point Edward last year too [where] they did not know the location of a shelter.  And now there are issues developing about this [new] potential shelter, which again, it is not in this document, and I think that in turn creates other issues.”

The county’s full Homelessness Enumeration Fall 2021 report and the County’s Housing and Homelessness Plan for 2020-2024, can be found by clicking here.

Social Services General Manager Valerie Colasanti told council that Lambton is not opening a new shelter in the community.

“We are opening a very short-term congregate living centre to assist the county with reducing the number of people who experience homelessness in the community.”

Colasanti said it will be an extension of the present system managed by The Inn of the Good Shepherd, and that ideally, the county will only have to use the Good Shepherd’s Lodge and The Haven once they get the numbers down.  There are currently around 150 residents experiencing homelessness, and Colasanti believes they can reduce that number by moving people away from motels on London Line.

Colasanti added that the reason they didn’t give the location of the temporary shelter is because it’s simply a piece of the lodge’s plan and that people can’t go to that setting on their own.

Bradley said the neighbourhood group the county talked to about the temporary facility has already sent the location to several hundred people.  Bradley said the location is not a secret and it should be out there.

“No one’s been more vigorous in fighting for River City and for The Inn of the Good Shepherd over the years, but I feel so detached from this process besides just this report,” said Bradley.  “Where I see the engagement in other communities — whether it be Toronto or London or Windsor — where the council is directly involved.”

Bradley said the public has really no way of directly expressing concerns around homelessness or affordable housing, or getting their questions answered

“Daily, this office receives complaints, which we filter and listen to, related to the county housing of people on the Golden Mile (London Line) and in other locations in the community.”

Councillor Brian White echoed Bradley’s statements.

“I know that there was public input sought through the development of some of these strategies and I’m certainly not suggesting by supporting this that it wasn’t sought, but I do think that this is a good time to go back.”

Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper also voiced support for the idea.

“I think this would be a good opportunity to identify [the issue] right across the county too.  I don’t know in my own municipality what the homeless situation is like, and I think it would be great input.  I guess the perception is that it’s all in the city, and it’s not, we certainly do have it here too and I don’t know to what extent. So, this would probably be very helpful to my own council.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, council supported motions to file and receive staff reports on homelessness and the affordable housing capital plan.