As the global COVID-19 pandemic is quickly approaching one year in Chatham-Kent, the municipality continues to combat housing and homelessness.
During last week’s meeting, council received a staff update, which reported there are currently 135 individuals and at least two families experiencing homelessness.
A motion to remove a housing services case manager position for $99,480 has failed. South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson brought it to the table, adding there were no “great places” to make cuts, but cuts had to be made somewhere.
Compared to January 2020, this is a 28.7 percent increase in total homelessness.
Josh Myers, program manager, said although the municipality does its best to help, there’s still a “severe lack of supportive housing” in the community.
“It’s very fluid, people who’ve been in and out of readiness, with changes to life circumstances,” said Myers. “Our data says there are anywhere between five and 10 individuals that are sleeping outside on a given night. I would be hesitant to say they’re doing this out of choice, but I would note for some they are not interested in what we can offer on that.”
The report stated it is believed the pandemic forced many people who were hidden homeless out of overcrowded accommodations.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, employment and social services converted a portion of the John D. Bradley Convention Centre to a homeless shelter during the first several months of lockdown.
According to April Rietdyk, general manager, Community Human Services, since closing the Bradley Centre, more than 150 individuals required emergency accommodations,
Census Canada reported in 2016 that one in six residents of Chatham-Kent and one in five children live in poverty.
“It is expected that job and business losses have increased this number, leaving more people to have to decide between rent and food,” the report stated.
Ray Harper, Director of Housing Services, said there’s a shortage of affordable housing in Chatham-Kent, and the price of rent has increased significantly.
In 2020, the average market rent for a one-bedroom unit was $938, the equivalent to a 48 percent increase over 2015 rates, not including heat and hydro, according to a report. In the same timeframe, the minimum wage increased by just 24 percent, Ontario Works increased by 13 percent, and the Ontario Disability Support Program increased by 10 percent.
Housing services has developed relationships with private landlords who offer affordable renters units through the municipal Rent Supplement program. Harper said that a case manager was essential for marketing and recruiting private landlords, as well as assisting the tenants in maintaining their units.
Ray Harper, director of housing services, said staff have been developing an “extensive and dynamic” inventory system for housing locations, sizes and zonings.
“We have the initial data set up. We’re working at fine-tuning this model to scrub and filter out … land that would not be suitable for our purposes,” said Harper.\He added the importance of building positive relationships with landlords and supporting tenants.
“If we don’t support the landlords that are engaged in the rent supplement programs, well, they’re all networked, and they talk to other landlords. And that would be challenging to us to sustain and to attract new landlords to participate in this.”
Mayor Darrin Canniff also voiced his support for maintaining the housing budget.
“This is an investment in our community. This is not a cost,” said Canniff.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News