Far more people than expected are using Essex County's new homelessness hub

The Essex County Homelessness Hub opened in September of 2022. (Submitted by Family Services Windsor-Essex - image credit)
The Essex County Homelessness Hub opened in September of 2022. (Submitted by Family Services Windsor-Essex - image credit)

Officials in Essex County say use of the new Homelessness Hub in Leamington, Ont., far exceeded expectations during its first five months of operations.

A hundred and sixty-seven people visited the centre a total of 740 times between Sept. 6, 2022 and Jan. 31, 2023, according to a report from the county's community services manager.

The centre, located at 215 Talbot St. E., helps clients access housing, food, clothing and social services. It also provides access to telephones and computers and serves as a warming centre in extreme cold weather.

"Homelessness is bigger than what people actually know," said hub client Jason Stanley when asked why he felt the facility was proving so popular.

"Everybody downplays it."

'It's amazing what they do'

The two-year, $500,000 pilot project is fully funded through the federal/provincial Safe Restart Agreement, which includes funding for addressing the needs of vulnerable populations.

Several partner agencies are helping deliver services on-site, including Housing Information Services Windsor/Essex County, the Bilingual Legal Clinic of Windsor-Essex, and the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre.

"Overall, it's amazing what they do," Stanley said.

"I was shocked when I first started coming here at all the services they offer, especially for something out in the county."

He called the hub "a godsend," without which he might still be living in unsafe, squat-like conditions in downtown Windsor.

submitted by Family Services Windsor-Essex
submitted by Family Services Windsor-Essex

Back in September, Stanley was forced to move out of his previous home in rural Essex County when his landlord sold the house. He bounced from a motel in Kingsville to a friend's house, to a shelter in downtown Windsor to a "crappy" shared house.

"The plumbing wasn't very functional. There was no heat," he said of the latter.

He had connected with the hub as soon as he knew he'd be facing homelessness, and staff arranged rides for him to different accommodations, he said.

They eventually found him a better place to stay in shared accommodations in the county and arranged for a ride to get him there.

I was shocked when I first started coming here at all the services they offer, especially for something out in the county. - Jason Stanley

They're now helping him secure permanent housing, providing mental health support, teaching him budgeting skills, assisting him in getting his GED and helping him find work.

Stanley visits the hub daily and credits it with helping him to become more social.

"I'm looking into volunteering here," he said.

The only things the facility lacks, he added, are showers and laundry facilities.

"Those things are on our wish list," said Barb Iacono, the director of housing and community programs at Family Services Windsor-Essex, which operates the hub.

"There is a space issue at the present time, which we are working on."

Stacey Janzer/CBC
Stacey Janzer/CBC

The organization also hopes to attract other service providers to its site, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, she said.

The facility is "extremely flexible" and aims to adapt to provide services that the community needs.

"I don't think we really knew what we were expecting when we opened this site," Iacono said of the high demand for the hub.

"It's been very difficult to collect data out in the county. It's a very different type of homelessness. ... In the city, we talk about very visible homelessness. In the county ... there's more hidden homelessness, people who are couch surfing, staying with family and moving around quite a bit."

Submitted by Family Services Windsor-Essex
Submitted by Family Services Windsor-Essex

It's still too early to draw any conclusions about homelessness in the county based on that usage data so far, Iacono said.

"We do know that people who experience homelessness do move around a lot," she said. "People move from the city to the county, from other communities into the county, into Windsor, and people tend to be transient, and they go where they believe the services are. …It's really hard to draw a conclusion about whether or not homelessness is actually increasing."

A Windsor-Essex point-in-time count conducted in March of 2021, surveyed a total of 251 people experiencing homelessness across the city and county, reflecting a 27 per cent increase from the 197 people surveyed during the previous count in 2018.