Windsor-Essex continues to work to bring new housing and services to those experiencing homelessness, but according to those working in the system, it's just not enough to meet the demand.
Jennifer Tanner, the manager of homelessness and housing support with the city of Windsor, said the housing department works to "turn over every stone" to find any capital dollars through federal, provincial or municipal funding they can to help increase the supply of affordable housing in the area.
"There is some progress being made and there are some builds happening for new affordable housing," she said. But honestly, they're smaller projects, you know, it's adding five units here or 20 units there and really when the community needs thousands of units."
Windsor is seeing an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, said Tanner. There are 566 households. Of those, the majority are single people, while 43 families make up the remainder of the number. Although the number is rising, she said the shelter usage hasn't been too high.
"There's still capacity within the existing emergency shelter system. Particularly at the Downtown Mission since they've added some more beds recently and created an overnight warming centre," Tanner said.
Leamington also has a small emergency shelter program, utilizing motel rooms to help those who either work or attend school in the municipality.
The city's Homelessness and Housing Help Hub (H-4), continues to operate out of Water World downtown. It opened in 2020 as a response to the pandemic, which saw public places close. H-4 is a spot for people to get assistance in finding housing, as well as other community supports.
This year, H-4 is looking for a permanent home and Tanner said the need continues to grow since it opened three years ago.
"There's been success for sure. I think the fact that there's approximately 130 to 160 people attending H-4 every single day is a testament to how needed it is in the community and how successful it's been," she said.
Ever since the community started capturing homelessness data through the by-names list in 2018, Tanner said the city programs helped house 1,600 people.
"There's been great success, but we're also seeing more people enter into homelessness and new people that had never experienced it before."
"I think it's a big issue and and there needs to be a full community response." - Barb Iacono, manager of housing, Family Services Windsor-Essex
Family Services Windsor-Essex is also working with those experiencing homelessness. Barb Iacono, the manger of housing, said it's very difficult to help find housing because the market is so tight and expensive.
"Individuals don't receive that much money if they're Ontario Works or ODSP. So it's very difficult to get affordable housing and there is a long wait list through the central housing registry," she said.
There's also difficulty with landlords who are unwilling to rent at the affordable rates needed for those on a limited income, Iacono said.
Family Services, along with other housing programs in Windsor, has a housing-first approach.
"When we're looking for housing for individuals that we're supporting, we're walking through that process with them. So when they do go to do an interview or they're going to see a viewing for a unit, our workers are there with them," she said.
That does not mean once they get them housing they're left alone, Family Services Windsor-Essex also provides up to three years of support, including mental health, addition, and counselling along with weekly visits, she said. The landlord can also connect with them if there are problems.
The Windsor-Essex Community Housing Corporation (CHC) said that as of Dec. 16, the number of people waiting for affordable housing was 5,962. Of those, 481 are on their Priority 2 list for those who are homeless or met other priority criteria.
Iacono said those on the list are also those who are unstably housed.
"So there's more housing instability, where people might be couch surfing, then they may be paying rent somewhere, a room for rent or a unit here and there for a period of time," she said. "Then they're experiencing homelessness again, possibly using shelter and then back into couch surfing."
What's needed to help? More housing, said Iacono.
"I really do think it's a systemic issue that we need to come together and look at and how can we get some private landlords on site and have that discussion with them and try to figure out how can we get private landlords involved in, in helping us house people and get people off the streets and what incentives do we need to give?" she said. "So I think it's a big issue and and there needs to be a full community response."