Region considering sanctioned encampment site in plan to end homelessness
An proposal aimed at ending homelessness in Waterloo region went before regional council on Tuesday, giving members the chance to hear the latest plans for interim housing solutions.
The plan was introduced during the Tuesday morning Community Services Committee meeting.
The updated plan comes following approval in June for regional councillors to "develop a plan to establish interim housing solutions for Regional residents experiencing homelessness including those currently residing in encampments."
"We have to move forward and get some concrete ideas and start making a difference," said Geoff Lorentz, councillor for the Region of Waterloo.
The Community Services Committee voted unanimously in favour of expanding the transitional housing program.
The expansion of home-based supports is to help people find and pay for affordable housing.
It also includes the creation of additional emergency shelter space.
For the first time ever, the region will look at officially sanctioning an encampment.
"The urgency of the situation presented an opportunity to consider an option that has not never been explored before," said Peter Sweeney, commissioner of community services with the Region Of Waterloo.
The region says after speaking with people living in encampments and outreach organizations, they realized while not a perfect solution, it's often better than the alternative.
The plan has four major components.
First, to increase the traditional housing program with the inclusion of up to 125 new beds. This includes an indigenous-focused and led housing site.
Part two looks to expand home-based supports to help people. Thirdly, to find and keep affordable housing and access supports. They also want to add 50 emergency shelter beds.
The last part is to create a managed or sanctioned outdoor camp for up to 50 people.
The presentation outlined the recommendations for interim housing solutions for consideration following a community engagement process.
"You have probably realized we are really good talkers," said Lorentz. "We talk about a lot of stuff, and we say this is what we would like to do, this is what we should do, and I think this is an important issue that we can't just talk about it anymore. We have to move forward, and get some concrete ideas and start making a difference."
The camp at 100 Victoria has been front and centre in the conversation about homelessness in the region.
Many outreach workers and camp residents say it is better than the worst possible solution.
According to the presentation, from July 13 to 25 regional staff engaged in consultations with community organizations.
"You need to investigate every opportunity, and by talking to people who are living rough you realize that is an option that is their first choice even though it is not something we would consider the safest or most sustainable option," said Karen Redman, chair of the Region of Waterloo.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT WORKER WEIGHS IN
Pete McKechnie is an outreach worker with Sanguen Health Centre, and he says a sanctioned camp, while not perfect, can make sense.
"We all know where to find folks so we can get them the services they are asking for constantly, but if they are all dispersed in their campsites, it’s much more difficult to find them," said McKechnie.
McKechnie has been doing outreach work for the last 15 years and says the level of collaboration right now is new and exciting.
"This is a time I’ve seen some collaboration with agencies getting the job done for the sake of community, putting the community first, and that’s what I feel when I read what's happening, what council and the region are doing, that’s putting community first," said McKechnie.
The plan for these options are not mutually exclusive, and councillors want to be able to use them all when needed.
They say a managed camp is the quickest solution but also has downfalls when it comes to safety and what people are looking for.
The region says the goal is to get everyone into some type of housing and a sanctioned camp is not a long-term solution.
Council will vote to officially ratify the motion at a meeting on august 18th.
The four proposed strategies come with significantly varying financial considerations, as the costs associated with some strategies is more than double other proposals.
The report recommends authorizing staff to prioritize and implement interim housing solutions, to support those experiencing homelessness in the Region of Waterloo.
If implemented, the total cost associated with the four strategies would be just over $10.2 million per year and create 325 spaces.
If implemented on Sept. 1 for the remaining four months of 2022, the associated cost would be a little more than $3.4 million.
The proposal to expand the transitional housing program, including an Indigenous-focused and led site, comes with a monthly price tag of nearly $432,000 – assuming 125 new beds.
Broken down, this gives a monthly cost per bed of $3,454, and a yearly cost of $41,448 per bed assuming the price stays consistent for the 12-month period.
The total yearly cost will be $5.1 million if this strategy is implemented.
According to the report, a capital investment of an unknown amount may be required.
The second strategy of expanding home-based support programs – which assumes 100 new units – will come with a monthly cost of $218,000 for 100 client spaces.
This means the monthly cost for each client space is $2,180, or $26,160 for one year.
The yearly cost associated with this strategy is just over $2.6 million.
If the Region of Waterloo implements strategy three – expanding emergency shelter program spaces – the assumption of an additional 50 beds will have a monthly cost of $127,000. Broken down, this places the cost per space at $2,538, or $30,456 per space each year.
The yearly cost for this strategy is just over $1.5 million.
The assumption for these prices is based off the current average annual cost for 286 emergency shelter beds.
According to the report, an unknown amount of capital investment may be required.
The fourth strategy, permitting a managed hybrid shelter and outdoor model, is the cheapest option with 50 spaces costing $78,000 monthly.
This gives a monthly cost per space is $1,566, or $18,797 per year, or just under $1 million.
The total cost, however, could increase as the report notes there may be an additional monthly costs for staffing requirements. An additional capital and infrastructure investment may be also be required.
The report recommends authorizing staff to prioritize and implement these interim housing solutions, to support those experiencing homelessness in the Region of Waterloo.
For 2022, the funding options being assessed include uncommitted provincial COVID funding, uncommitted allocation in 2022 strategic investment in affordable housing, some capacity within the equity & inclusion budget allocation and the tax stabilization reserve.
In 2023, the region will advocate to the province for additional homelessness program funding, and in the absence of additional provincial funding, the net cost will fall to the property tax levy.
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