Social assistance rate hikes needed, Peterborough County council hears

·3 min read

Increasing the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program shelter rates and boosting funding from Peterborough County to the Peterborough city and county housing and homelessness funds were some of the topics put forward at Wednesday’s county council meeting to address homelessness in the city and county.

Housing manager Rebecca Morgan Quin and homelessness and addiction services manager Dorothy Olver, representing Peterborough Social Services, which is responsible for providing housing in the city and county and a 10-year housing and homelessness plan, gave an update on the issues to county councillors.

Asked by Selwyn Township Mayor Andy Mitchell for policites that couldt address problems, Morgan Quin said if the province changed OW and ODSP shelter amounts, it would make a difference.

Since the shelter allowances are not enough to pay the average market rent, this “means their rents have to be subsidized (by the city and county) even more than someone just with a low income,” taking money away from overall operating dollars, she said.

“We would be able to do a lot more (with that money). When municipalities and service managers get together, we are continuously lobbying the province to move to that sort of a model,” she said.

Sheldon Laidman, commissioner for community services with the city, who was also present during the virtual meeting, said the county provides much less a year in funding to the service manager agreement for housing and homelessness than the city, and an increase on the county’s part would be helpful.

“Certainly, city council is going to be challenged to be able to fund our homeless budget this year with the increases that we are anticipating,” Laidman said.

“Moving it towards some type of census or weighted assessment approach would certainly be helpful.”

As of Sept. 1, there were at least 328 homeless people in the area, according to the by-name list of Peterborough Social Services.

“Almost always 50 per cent of the people that are on the by-name list have high acuity which means they have a really high level of need. If they’re going to go from homelessness to housing, they’re going to need some level of support in place to help them to stay housed,” said Olver, “whether it’s addictions, mental health, physical health, trauma, acquired brain injury or all of the above.”

Lack of rental options also pose a major problem, she said, causing people to stay in shelters for longer periods.

Sheridan Graham, CAO for the county, told councillors the county is working on a project with the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus that would see counties join together regionally to approach housing and have a discussion around available lands, whether it be surplus lands or vacant properties, owned by municipalities and also the provincial and federal governments.

“So, we’ve been lobbying them more on that, especially when we’re looking at rural schools,” she said.

Mitchell said building new housing, while critical, is only part of the solution.

“If that’s all we do, we won’t solve the problem that we have in housing in our community,” he said.

Half of the homeless require support services to successfully transition to housing “and I think it’s important for people to understand that does not come without a very hefty price,” he said.

“The average person doesn’t earn an average wage, sufficient to pay the average rent in our community,” Mitchell said. “If people don’t make enough money to pay the rents, you haven’t solved the problems.”

Another idea discussed was the need for the province to provide capital funding to universities and colleges for student housing, as it cuts into a lot of the rental market currently.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner