People without homes climbes to 171 in Chatham-Kent

·2 min read

New numbers show Chatham-Kent’s homeless population has jumped significantly in the last three years.

Working with several local health and shelter groups, the municipality determined the night of Oct. 19 there were 171 homeless people in Chatham-Kent. The last time this count was conducted, in 2018, this total was 119.

“The onset of the pandemic threw Chatham-Kent and municipalities across Ontario further into a homelessness crisis when already pressured systems were overwhelmed,” says Polly Smith, director of employment and social services.

She says in the past 19 months the municipality has seen “the progress of hundreds of homeless people being re-homed, but in the last few months we have seen housing placements decline and ‘new’ people fall into homelessness.”

A survey of 149 people who’d recently experienced homelessness showed 60 per cent used emergency housing while 53 per cent said they’d been homeless more than half of the past year.

First Nations and Métis people were heavily overrepresented, making up 23 per cent of the homeless population despite these groups comprising less than five per cent of Chatham-Kent residents.

Seventy per cent of people said housing costs were their biggest barrier to finding a home. The average rental in Chatham-Kent this year is $1,050 per month, up 30 per cent from 2019. The municipality says the current wait time for a single unit spot in social housing is five years.

Council will hear a presentation before the end of the year on potential solutions to this problem, including a series of upcoming community forums.

"Those who are homeless in Chatham-Kent grew up here, they are someone’s mother, father, son or daughter," says Josh Myers, program manager with employment and social services.

"They were once someone’s neighbor. They have come across challenges and trauma that were not their own doing."

"ESS will continue to deliver and create new evidence-informed programs that demonstrate outcomes in ending and reducing homelessness. Failing to act or ignoring this crisis will not make this go away, it will only make the situation worse," says Myers.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby says public health’s COVID vaccination efforts in this community were good but not without their struggles. “Some of this population really do not wish to be assisted and that is especially challenging. We’ve had a number of outreach vaccination efforts specifically designed to target the homeless. And we’ve maybe not been as successful as we’ve had liked.”

“But in this difficult to reach population we have had significant uptake and are doing our very best to help make sure we don’t have (COVID) issues in this population,” says Colby.

Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent

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