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Guelph staff recommend against creating structured encampment


City staff are not recommending a temporary structured encampment in Guelph.

They looked into the idea after Mayor Cam Guthrie used his strong mayor powers to request a report.

According to the findings of that report, homelessness and housing stability services are the responsibility of the County of Wellington and not the city. The report also said creating a temporary structured encampment site is outside the scope of the City of Guelph’s mandated municipal services.

It adds that no money is allocated within the 2024-2027 multi-year budget for something like this, and there is no grant funding available from other levels of government.

According to the report, the up-front cost for 50 modular units would be approximately $2.5 million, or around $50,000 per unit. Ongoing operating costs would range between $40,000 to $50,000 per unit or about $2 million to $2.5 million annually per year for 50 units.

“The report does answer all the questions that we were looking for,” Mayor Cam Guthrie said on Friday.

Staff also reviewed all city-owned and controlled properties and parks were considered the largest and most suitable areas for this use. They looked at four parks located within 600 metres of the downtown core. The report said the council-approved Park Plan defines parks as primarily for human enjoyment, recreation and connection to nature. Staff said conversion of the parks, even for a short time, would cause misalignment with this definition and would impact a wide variety of park users.

If council directs staff to explore the idea of parks again, a public engagement process would be initiated to identify potential locations and seek community feedback.

Parking lots were not considered at this time.

In March, the city called on private landowners who might be interested in donating land for a period of no less than three years. Staff later determined there were no suitable submissions from that process.

Infrastructure Ontario reviewed its lands in Guelph as well and also determined there was no suitable site in the city.

Mayor and county respond

The mayor posted the report to social media on Thursday and asked residents to share their thoughts.

"I still think there might be a role here for us to play, whether that's in partnership with the county or other people within the community to see what we might have to do in next steps," Guthrie told CTV News.

The city, he added, are making progress in addressing the housing shortage.

“We’ve done very well in Guelph. In permanent supportive housing we have about 108 units opening up this year.”

But the mayor knows more still needs to be done.

“We have a housing problem and a homelessness problem,” Guthrie said. “So some of the weighing of those issues and the balancing of those issues is something that I think needs to still be discussed, especially in a crisis.”

CTV News also reached out to Andy Lennox, the warden for Wellington County, who shared the following statement: “As the service manager for housing services for the City of Guelph and Wellington County we remain focussed on trying to help to house as many individuals in need as possible. We continue to collaborate with the City of Guelph on addressing these pressing needs. We trust that city council will decide what they believe is best for the City of Guelph.”

Guthrie, meanwhile, is hoping to see more input from the government.

“I was hoping the province might actually see what’s going on here and maybe get back to us on how they can help. The federal government might see what we’re trying to deal with and help, and I think that’s where a lot of the money should be coming from and not on the backs of taxpayers. But we can’t just ignore it either.”

Other considerations

The report from city staff determined additional wraparound services would also be needed for a temporary structured encampment and fundraising for it could take away from other housing fundraising campaigns.

About 30 people using the Stepping Stone shelter support program were surveyed about their thoughts. The report said roughly 50 per cent of respondents were open to moving into a temporary structured encampment site. The majority said the site should take a low-barrier approach to guests, pets and substance use.

The report adds the provincial budget allocated an additional $152 million over the next three years towards various supportive housing initiatives. Staff said that will enable many transitional and supportive housing units to be opened.

The report still needs to be discussed by city council before any decision about a temporary structured encampment is made. Top Stories

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