Ending homelessness in Windsor is going to cost more money, more housing

Windsor city councillors received the 2019 Windsor-Essex housing and homelessness master plan, accepting the document during Monday evening's council meeting.

The 2019 housing master plan lays out multiple goals to end homelessness, but will require additional funding from all levels of government and other sources to successfully implement.

The plan outlines projects to be considered in the city's and county's budget planning process, as well as integration of affordable housing as a strategic priority and the need to find funding sources and partnership opportunities when available.

Councillors requested a formal timeline within a year, as well as an executive summary "within the first year, to make sure that we have some achievable outcomes that council would like us to demonstrate for the plan and overall," according to Debbie Cercone, executive director of housing and children's services for the city.

The report was meant to create a roadmap and vision for the next 10 years, she explained. The next phase will speak to the need for resources, including housing.

"Homelessness sometimes it isn't just a matter of housing, but it's the supports that come with it," Cercone said.

That could include mental health services and addictions services. Councillors also stated there could be ways around getting more housing, including secondary suites and tiny houses.

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"The perennial problem in a city is that there are always more needs than you have funding for," said WIndsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

The plan didn't come with an attached budget, but the mayor said there is a limited budget to satisfy all the various needs in the city.

"I see an aspirational goal of ending homelessness," said Dilkens. "Can we get there? I suspect that that would be very, very difficult to get there, saying we have no homelessness in the city of Windsor or in any city frankly, for that matter." 

He said Windsor city council has shown a willingness to end homelessness by investing $12 million in social and affordable housing.

"We have about a $1 billion borrowing capacity of the city," said Dilkens. "If I borrowed $1 billion and I built 3,600 units, which ... basically equates to the Meadowbrook project ... Likely the next day, I would probably have 3,600 new families or people who come to the city of Windsor, because they see that it might be quicker to get into social and affordable housing here."

The issue is complex, but Dilkens said it requires help from both the provincial and federal government.

Downtown Mission executive pleased with plan

Ron Dunn, executive director of the Downtown Mission, was glad there's a plan, but said a lot can change in 10 yeas.

"When I first read the plan and some of our goals are out to 2028, we're in a crisis today," he said.

Dunn was also glad to hear that city administrators weren't waiting until 2028, but plan to work on projects throughout the next decade.

Stacey Janzer/CBC

"I think it's important for us to recognize as a city, and certainly I heard that tonight at council that everybody recognizes that we're in a crisis and we need to act swiftly and allocate the resources as we can," he said.

There are 140 beds in the city's emergency shelter system, with the Downtown Mission contributing 103 of those beds. Even still, Dunn said the Downtown Mission's capacity is sometimes unable to meet shelter demands.

"It depends on the night and the climate, but certainly there are no bigger issues facing our city than the affordable housing crisis, the opioid crisis, and the mental health crisis," he said.

Dunn added that the Downtown Mission is sometimes ground zero for all of those issues.

"We need to continue to work together and I'm comfortable and confident that the city has the best of intentions and we'll do our part too," he said.

The city's master plan will now be sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, with the Ministry expected to provide feedback in 2020.