Why Windsor's homeless prevention lead wants council to think differently about shelters

·2 min read
Debbie Cercone, executive director of housing and children's services, plans to propose to city council the approval to seek a space for a new homeless hub. (Amy Dodge/CBC - image credit)
Debbie Cercone, executive director of housing and children's services, plans to propose to city council the approval to seek a space for a new homeless hub. (Amy Dodge/CBC - image credit)

The impacts of COVID-19 on homelessness in Windsor-Essex have led to a proposal for a new homeless hub that stems beyond shelters.

Debbie Cercone, Executive Director of Housing and Children's Services, is planning to ask Windsor's city council to find a space that will house up to 60 people and provide additional support and services such as health care, mental health treatment and income supports.

On July 19, Cercone will ask the city to allow her to seek out a space for this hub.

"What we're looking for is to have some identified places and projects that are in the hub - what used to be called 'shovel ready' - so that we can just simply go to them and bring them forward for approval for the funding that we need to make them happen," said Cercone.

If council approves her proposal, Cercone said she will begin the process of space hunting immediately.

The pandemic was a learning experience

Over the course of the pandemic, more support has been provided for those experiencing homelessness in the form of shelters and mental health services.

Last spring, a temporary shelter was opened in Windsor as a result of an outbreak of COVID-19 in homeless shelters. Cercone said a lot was learned from the experience.

"We learned a lot about folks there who have really fallen through the cracks. They've been homeless for long periods of time and have called the shelter their home for many years," said Cercone.

Cercone pointed out the success of the Housing Homelessness and Health Hub (H4) established at Water World in May 2020.

At the end of June, H4 had had 1,128 unique visitors with an average of 115 people stopping by each day.

An evaluation of the H4 program was conducted in February and March to look at the impact of offering services while adhering to public health guidelines during the pandemic, and Cercone said it was clear after that that new considerations had to be made.

"We put all of those things together and we thought we need to think differently about how we're developing shelter services," said Cercone.

Cercone said Windsor is not alone but that other municipalities are facing the same struggles.

"We do know there are other communities that are dealing with the same issues, the same struggles and trying to come up with solutions that are like this and we understand it's a very bold vision and it's something that will take time to bring to fruition," said Cercone.

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