BRUCE COUNTY – The number speaks volumes – a 500 per cent increase in use of Bruce County’s homelessness sheltering services over the past five years.

A group of reports from the Human Services department at the Feb. 15 meeting of county council included discussion on the number of emergency shelter nights provided in the past year.

Deputy Warden Luke Charbonneau (Saugeen Shores) had remarked on the report that stated the YMCA of Grey Bruce delivers emergency shelter, in 2023 providing 11,714 nights of shelter, averaging 42.8 nights per household served. The report noted low vacancy rates and high rental costs have “made it difficult for individuals and families experiencing homelessness to secure more permanent housing in Bruce County or surrounding areas.”

CAO Christine MacDonald said that in preparing for the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference, staff were looking at numbers for the Western Wardens’ Caucus. The figure that emerged was use of homelessness sheltering has increased by 500 per cent.

Tania Dickson, housing services manager, added that since COVID, “we have seen that spike in emergency shelter use.”

Said Charbonneau, “One thing we don’t… highlight enough is just how much we are doing… this partnership we have with the YMCA is a really effective partnership… this report highlights just how much they’re doing.”

He further commented that “500 per cent… is a concerning number,” and suggested that number requires “a greater investment.” Charbonneau went on to say that assistance is needed from the federal government and the province, and referred to the housing and homelessness master plan as providing the information needed to take to senior levels of government.

Dickson confirmed Charbonneau was “on the right track” with that, and added the county is doing some cost analysis with the Y, with the focus on a “rural homelessness response model.”

MacDonald provided further information on how other county initiatives play into the work of sheltering and homelessness support services, including the community development office.

She made special note of all the work that’s being done to assist developers in “making some gains” in increasing rental and purpose-built units, to create vacancies and reduce pressures on homelessness services.

County Coun. Jay Kirkland (South Bruce Peninsula) asked about tiny homes. 

Claire Dodds, commissioner for the community development office, replied that the county is “looking at the full spectrum of housing options” which includes tiny homes.

The report included data on the by-name list – a list of all people experiencing homelessness and using the homelessness response services in the county. Data indicates that since June 2020, 192 people have been added to the list. As of the end of 2023, 41 households have obtained housing, 102 have moved to inactive (no contact for 90 days), and 49 households remain on the list.

The report stated a person is considered ‘chronically homeless’ when they have been without a home for six months in one year. In Bruce County, 63 per cent of the people experiencing homelessness meet that definition.

The waitlist for housing assistance had 1,093 applicants as of the end of December – 1,046 for rent geared to income, and 47 market rent – consisting of 332 families, 448 adults and 313 seniors. In 2023, 39 applicants were housed. 

Warden Chris Peabody noted in an interview that some of the applicants are from outside the county, and he’d like to see information on those particular numbers.

By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 23, 2024 at 07:00

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