Collaborative campaign hopes to drop homelessness in Perth County by 15 per cent

·8 min read

PERTH COUNTY – The City of Stratford, County of Perth and Town of St. Marys are conducting a campaign to reduce the 119 households currently experiencing chronic homelessness by 15 per cent. To achieve this goal they are hoping to partner with landlords across the region who have units available to rent. The goal is to find 20 new units by the end of the year.

Anyone with units available is asked to contact Maggie Clayton at for more information about the program. The first thing the program offers landlords is rent paid in full, on time and assistance with any financial issues that may arise.

“Sometimes there are housing allowances that are attached to the program,” said Ontario Works Manager Alex Burgess. “If there is a housing allowance it is issued correctly to make sure it’s going to be paid. We make sure those are issued in time so the landlord has those in hand.”

If there is a portion of the rent coming directly from the tenant, he said a housing stability worker will work with the tenant to make sure it’s set up so that it’s always paid in full and on time.

“If there are going to be hiccups in a month, let’s say something happened and their social assistance isn’t in, then we can work with them to get ahead of it… or look at alternative programs that can cover the rent for that month,” he said. “If we do run into an issue where rent arrears are accrued… then we have programs in place to make sure rent gets paid as quickly as possible so landlords aren’t without their rent for an extended period.”

There is also a guarantee that reasonable costs will be paid for any damages beyond regular wear and tear to the unit.

“There is an inspection done on the unit before the tenant moves in,” said Burgess. “There are quarterly unit inspections done… to look at the state of the unit and make sure if there is anything in disrepair that we address it.”

When a tenant moves out, another inspection is done and comparisons are done to photos of the initial inspection.

“If there are holes in the wall or something like that that might have occurred we would then work with the landlord, whether they have a contractor or it is done through our end,” he said. “We always ask for a few different quotes just to make sure we are doing our due diligence… We would cover the cost at that point to get that unit ready… whether it’s coming back to the program or they are choosing to leave the program, we would still assist them with reasonable costs to repair those damages.”

Through the social services programs, there is regular contact with the clients that would be renting.

“Through SHOP it’s a minimum once a week their housing stability workers check in with them,” said Burgess. “If they are stable and don’t require that level we could modify but make sure there are regular check-ins and those check-ins are still done… in the person’s home. They go in and kind of get eyes on them in the unit and work with them to address any issues with their day-to-day.”

When a landlord is reaching out saying this is the specific type of person they want, Burgess said they are very clear upfront to let them know what service level the City of Stratford Social Services Department will be offering.

“We can’t promise tenancies that are free of problems,” he said. “We can promise a response to those problems that arise… (and) we’d be very clear with them to let them know if the weekly check-ins would be occurring or what they are going to get based on our interaction or involvement with that person.”

Burgess wanted to be clear, the City of Stratford does not sign the lease.

“It is still a lease between the landlord and the tenant,” he said. “We are always very upfront about that. We’re still making sure it is a legal lease. It is a standard Ontario lease that’s being signed between the landlord and tenant but if there are issues that are arising they can address those with their tenant directly… or if there is a housing stability worker involved they can reach out to them.”

Burgess said it gives the landlord peace of mind knowing there is somebody who is going to pick up the phone and try to resolve those problems as quickly as possible.

“As I said, we can’t promise there won’t be problems but then again, no landlord renting to anyone can be guaranteed there are no problems,” he said. “But, if there are concerns that are being raised we’ll address them. We are prompt with our responses.”

Burgess used SHOP as a reference for a positive example of the work being done to end chronic homelessness in the area.

“That is one of our more robust programs of support,” he said. “Out of the 57 people who were most recently in SHOP, 45 were housed so we see a high rate and we generally can respond quite well to those issues. We have seen people… graduated off of the program and they don’t need our supports anymore or maybe they just need a bit of financial support.”

Burgess acknowledged that social assistance rates are quite low and if someone is transitioning to work they may need some ongoing support.

“We see lots of success through the different programs,” he said. “A lot of times people get hung up on the idea, are they ready for housing, that’s why we push the housing first… housing first really works. How does someone work through their mental health or their addiction when they are sleeping outside… or accessing and emergency shelter? When they are housed you can see so much more progress that is made and with the program, we have that we can respond promptly if issues come up we can work through those until that person is stable.”

SHOP has maintained a very high level of people who have stayed housed through the program. Generally, over 80 per cent of the people in the program are housed.

“We don’t see a lot of returns to homelessness from that program,” said Burgess. “Our other programs we have like our outreach programs, sometimes we get involved very briefly… with a client to work through whatever issue they might be having that is effecting their tenancy.”

He pointed out that most people who experience concerns with mental health or addictions are not homeless.

“They are housed so those are not necessarily a barrier to housing, it’s just how we respond to them, what services are available,” said Burgess. “There is only one way to solve homelessness and that’s housing. That’s why if we can get more people housed and put those supports in place I do think we can see more success stories come out of it.”

Although some may say a reduction of 15 per cent in homelessness through this campaign does not seem like much, he noted this is only a step in a longer commitment.

“That’s just over the next two months we want to see a reduction of 15 per cent,” said Burgess. “We’re committed to trying to reach functional zero which is ending chronic homelessness by 2025. The province has committed to that. We’ve committed to that in our 10-year housing and homelessness plan. We didn’t want to come out and… say we want to reduce it 100 per cent by the end of 2021 knowing that is not really achievable … This work never stops. We are always looking for landlords. Our real goal is to end chronic homelessness but we have to start with smaller numbers that we can achieve.”

City of Stratford Social Services is running its enumeration this year.

“Our homelessness enumeration runs from Nov. 1 to Nov. 10 so we’ll be reaching out to individuals who are experiencing homelessness to hopefully clean up our data,” said Burgess. “We have a quality ‘by name’ list so we’re using that by name list to drive the work we are doing and make sure what we have is accurate.”

They are reaching out to their partners throughout the county such as United Way Perth-Huron, Optimism Place, Canadian Mental Health Association, Choices for Change, Emily Murphy and Stratford-Perth Shelterlink.

“We’re reaching out to those because they have relationships with a lot of the clients we are trying to get a hold of and then our staff are going out and (talking to) individuals we know of who may be sleeping rough, but if anyone is experiencing homelessness that we may not be aware of we ask that they reach out to our office here at the City of Stratford,” said Burgess. “It’s not something that can be solved overnight unfortunately as much as we wish it could be. We wish we had a plethora of housing that we could start connecting people to but we just want people to know we are out there and the work is being done.

“While it may not be visible all the time because they may not see us out at that exact moment it doesn’t mean we’re not out there and… committed to this goal of trying to get people housed and end homelessness.”

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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