Original Published on Sep 30, 2022 at 07:25

By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

BROCKTON – It’s not an easy problem that suddenly appeared, with a quick, straight-forward solution.

The issue of homelessness is complex, and requires a multi-faceted and co-ordinated approach, according to a Sept. 20 presentation to Brockton council.

Tania Dickson, Bruce County housing services manager; Matt Shute, YMCA; and Caitlin Currie, homelessness response co-ordinator for Grey and Bruce, attended the Sept. 20 council meeting and provided an overview of what Bruce County is doing to assist those who are experiencing homelessness. Their presentation and the discussion that followed lasted an hour.

The fact is, we have people who are homeless, living in our communities. As stated in the presentation, people may become homeless “due to poor service co-ordination and inequity of access, or unavoidable crisis and previous trauma.” If ignored, the problem doesn’t go away. 

“People living without shelter may experience mental health and substance use challenges,” according to the presentation. The key to finding solutions is development of “connection, engagement and rapport.”

Dickson spoke of the development of the affordable housing “toolkit” to assist in increasing the supply of lower-cost housing, and the many reasons why people are homeless.

She gave a “plug” for 211, which she described as “our go-to number” for finding assistance for those in need.

Dickson also spoke of the benefits of the “by-names” list – the county knows who the homeless are and what their individual issues and needs are.

Currie spoke of the “no wrong door” approach to helping people, stating that all service providers have the knowledge of how to connect people with the system.

She also spoke of the “housing first” approach, saying that housing “often stabilizes” the situation for an individual.

As with individuals showing up at a hospital requiring medical assistance, a form of “triage” takes place in which needs are assessed and priorities set. She said that housing isn’t unlike an organ transplant list – the person who gets the apartment isn’t necessarily the one with the greatest need, but the “best match.”

Shute spoke about the “on-the-ground approach. He and his team work with about 20 motel and room providers for emergency housing, which become “a stepping stone to greater security.” Staff are a bridge to services.

Shute confirmed that “there are encampments” in Grey-Bruce, as well as people living in vehicles. An encampment is any area where homeless people are living together as a group.

The problem is deepening, he said, in an environment of housing unaffordability.

The goal of Bruce County and the YMCA is to provide “access to adequate housing in the shortest possible time, and in the interim, ensure people’s rights are respected – they are members of our community,” he said.

The strategy of “progressive engagement” involves getting to know the people, and recognize their different needs and obstacles. This allows for a targeted approach that makes the most of the resources that are available.

There are two systems. One is the emergency housing system that’s geared to getting people into shelter, quickly. That’s where motels come in. The other system is more permanent housing, with the supports offered with the emergency system serving as stepping stones. 

Exiting the emergency system – i.e., finding permanent housing – isn’t easy. Bruce County Housing offers one in 10 units to people on the by-names list. In addition, staff continue to engage private landlords. There are programs to help people at risk of losing their tenancies.

Mayor Chris Peabody said he appreciated the work that’s being done by the county, and spoke of the “urgent need that was precipitated by fires at the Hillside Motel (in Walkerton) and the Forum (former Hanover Inn).”

Coun. Kym Hutcheon said the issue was “a major concern for our community.” She also spoke of the cost to the community, not only in terms of the municipal tax dollars that support county programs, but the additional costs of municipal staff time and resources. Hutcheon asked if people offered assistance had turned it down.

Shute said there “was the possibility for that” and said outreach workers continue to engage people in the hope of finding them shelter. The onset of colder weather adds urgency to the situation. 

“Intervening often takes time,” he said.

All three presenters spoke with optimism about things improving. Currie said she’s seen some major improvements in the 10 months she’s been in her present position.

Shute said with the implementation of the by-names list, “We know the people, and what they need.” 

Coun. James Lang suggested the possibility of “forming partnerships with other communities” that have appropriate facilities. 

“We need to do something,” he said.

For Peabody, the bottom line is support payments (for those on disability) are “far too low – they’ve been frozen for more than a decade… Payments need to change. We will be advocating for that with MPP Lisa Thompson.”

A motion will be forthcoming at a future council meeting.

Some points that emerged during discussion are as follows:

– The emergency motel system never involves the entire motel, just a few units. The Hillside and Forum were not part of the county system.

– Most of the homeless people in this area are either from here, or have strong ties to the area.

– Most of the phone calls from people seeking assistance are local.

– The county can and does, in certain cases, arrange for transportation for people to communities where they have ties and can get assistance.

– The county spends just under $1 million for its homeless prevention programming.

This item reprinted with permission from   The Herald-Times   Walkerton, Ontario

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