The Chatham Banquet Hall and Conference Centre was approved by Chatham-Kent Council as the location for a temporary emergency shelter.
Council approved the recommendations by Chatham-Kent staff to enter into a two-year lease agreement with the owner of the 280 Merritt Avenue location in Chatham.
“The Chatham Banquet Hall and Conference Centre was chosen as the best fit for the temporary shelter with the goal in closing the overnight services within 12 to 18 months,” said Polly Smith, director or employment and social services, in a report.
“At that time, alternative transitional housing will be utilized and the final months of the lease could be for day services only.”
Chatham Councillor Marjorie Crew said a lot of lessons have been learned with the running the current temporary shelter at the John D. Bradley Centre.
“We’re doing the right thing,” Crew said.
“It doesn’t matter where we put it, the neighbours would not be happy. I encourage them to say ‘hi’ when somebody is walking by that doesn’t look the way that you do.”
Crew added: “I will encourage the community if they have any issues please talk to someone at the centre.”
Smith said Council had requested information on a variety of alternative locations for the temporary emergency/isolation shelter.
“In early March of 2020, after seeing a significant increase in the number of local people experiencing homelessness, the homelessness prevention team of Employment and Social Services (ESS) began work on increasing motel room capacity,: Smith said in her report.
“In recent years, hotels and motels have been used as transitional housing until permanent housing could be obtained. The increased supply achieved by the homelessness prevention team could not keep up with the increased demand created by the pandemic.”
Smith said on April 6, 2020, April Rietdyk, the General Manger, Community Human Services told Council the numbers of visibly homeless people had increased substantially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The concern brought forward initially was the need for a place where individuals were able to self-isolate while finding housing,” Smith said in her report.
“Suddenly people were turned out of overcrowded accommodations or unable to frequent the places they previously spent time, in increasing the number of Chatham-Kent’s homeless almost instantaneously.”
Smith said a lease agreement has not been finalized, adding that cost is expected to be $9 per square foot (triple net) per year for approximately 10,000 square feet.
The cost will be approximately $125,000 per year for two years, Smith said in her report.
“To successfully house Chatham-Kent’s homeless, the management team, employment and social services staff and community partners will provide all needed services,” Smith said.
“Due to the short duration, and the need to ensure a ‘housing-focused’ approach is maintained an RFP to operate the shelter is no longer under consideration. Temporary staff will be hired to replace redeployed staff who are gradually returning to their other municipal positions. The positions will be funded through provincial funding. Redeployed staff have been a tremendous asset to ensure a safe and successful temporary shelter.”
While the shelter continues to be heavily used, Smith said, it is “important to note” that in each month of 2020, an average of 18 individuals or families have been housed through Chatham-Kent’s coordinated access program.
“That is 127 households so far this year, despite the challenges of the pandemic,” she said.
“The goal of the temporary emergency shelter is to continue to house people by utilizing multiple community partnerships. As stated, the shelter is ‘housing-focused’, which means all staff are trained to focus activities and interactions with guests to be related to housing. This is a proven model supported by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and federal and provincial funders. ”
Smith added: “The shelter cannot be a place of choice to stay, but merely a place to pass through on one’s way to something better. It is what sets a Housing Focused Shelter apart from smaller operating shelters that are often in the business of sheltering versus housing.”
Smith said in the coming months, it is the goal of Employment and Social Services to increase outreach efforts, utilizing current staff, in partnership with outreach groups like ROCK Missions to reach even more individuals in need of housing.
“This would expand on the work already being completed by Ontario Works case managers and the Rapid Re-Housing team,” Smith said.
On Monday, Council also directed staff to create a full report on the option of Indwell as a long-term housing solution for individuals in need of supportive housing.
This report is expected to be before Council before the end of the year.