The Municipality of Chatham-Kent is launching a new multi-media campaign for the community to understand homelessness better.
Known for being a more proactive approach, the municipality and its partners are looking to build community support through education in hopes of ending homelessness in Chatham-Kent.
Officials say the local homeless problem has gotten better throughout the last year; however they fear for the future and are launching an initiative called CK Cares.
The campaign’s goal is to end homelessness by creating awareness around the issue and building a supportive community to bust myths and end the stigma surrounding homelessness.
Through the campaign, the municipality will share the current situation within CK and information about the work community partners are doing to support those in need. That work includes operating emergency and transitional housing and delivering services that help people achieve long-term stability.
Mayor Darrin Canniff said the CK Cares campaign is just a piece of the puzzle. He said the ultimate solution is more affordable housing, which can only be realized with funding from upper levels of government. He added the campaign should help better inform the community about homelessness and stop the rumours.
He added it takes a community to solve the problem, adding a major solution is providing more affordable housing.
Canniff said if Chatham-Kent had 1,000 more affordable housing units, it would significantly impact homelessness.
He noted more people have become homeless over the last year who never thought this would happen to them. He highlighted this is because of rents increasing by hundreds of dollars a month, making it unaffordable for many to pay rent and buy groceries.
“We need people to understand that when we’re building affordable housing units, it has to happen,” Canniff said. “If you want people off the street, that has to happen. We have to build those homes.”
According to Polly Smith, director of employment and social services, there is a lot of interest in the issue, but people just don’t know what to do about it.
“When people have the facts and the background and factors that contribute to homelessness, I know people will be more supportive of the work we’re doing,” said Smith. “I think when we demystify homelessness and show how easy it can happen, it does create interest.
Smith noted Chatham-Kent is experiencing a housing crisis, and at least three new people become homeless each week, adding about 500 people became homeless in 2021.
She said 21 people got affordable housing last month, but 17 more became homeless.
According to the municipality, the cost of rent in Chatham-Kent has doubled over the last four years, and affordable rental properties are becoming harder to find.
Smith pointed to poverty and the lack of affordable housing as the most common causes of homelessness in the community.
“When you add in the recent pressures of inflation, it means that many new people are becoming homeless each week,” said Smith.
Smith said in October, there were 21 individuals housed through various programs, but 17 fell into homelessness for the first time.
“We don’t want any resident of Chatham-Kent to have to experience that,” added Smith.
A summit to address attainable housing will also be held on Nov. 29 at the Capitol Theatre in Chatham. This one-day summit will be held from 9:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. and intends to assist area stakeholders in exploring novel solutions to address the lack of attainable housing in rural communities.
Free tickets can be reserved by calling your local municipal office.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News