Windsor City Council has agreed to support the idea of a housing hub offering shelter and support services under the same roof.
At a meeting on Monday, council voted to endorse a recommendation from the executive director of Housing and Children's Services to pursue the development of the hub, which will offer emergency beds and other services "that are flexible and responsive to the needs of residents."
The idea of a single location where people experiencing homelessness can access needed services such as additions, mental health and income support has already gotten a trial run during the pandemic through the Homelessness and Housing Help Hub day program at Windsor Water World.
City staff have proposed applying the concept to a permanent site based on the results. The vote in support of the motion was unanimous.
Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin said that setting up the hub would be a step in the right direction in the issue of solving homelessness.
"This is something that I think is a key, key cornerstone step because it literally brings everybody together, as we've seen here in creating that hub model, and it takes advantage of all the services and the expertise that all those groups bring to the table," he said.
Council has greenlit up to $175,000 toward developing the project, including design work and site identification.
The motion also directs city staff to engage with stakeholders including current operators of shelter sites, and come up with a model to present to council.
As part of the project, the city will take expressions of interest, including from groups serving the population, to find an eventual operator for the site. Once the plan is ready, it will come back to council for a vote.
City to advocate to other levels of government
While the city has agreed to move forward on the project, funding is not yet in place. The city intends to seek money from other levels of government in order to build and operate the site.
Mayor Drew Dilkens said that will be one of the details to be worked out over the next couple of years as the plan comes together.
Coun. Bortolin added an amendment to the motion asking city administration to prepare an official letter on behalf of city council to advocate for funding for mental health and addictions from other levels of government.
Ward 1 Coun. Fred Francis was among several councillors who brought up the issue of advocating to higher levels of government.
"We can't have things continue to be downloaded onto the city, be it health-care matters or housing matters," he said.
Representatives of some community agencies who are involved in the Water World site attended the meeting.
The feedback for the hub idea was positive, though one advocate brought up the lack of resources to support the community overall, and how that issue would be addressed by setting up a new site.
"It's not the site that's necessary. It's the people. I am all in favour of spending more funding on reducing homelessness," said Tamara Kowalska, co-founder and former director of the Windsor Youth Centre.
"Is spending on the bricks and mortar, is that the most effective, and truthfully, most responsible spending right now?"