By Jessica Lovell
At Friday morning’s launch of the County of Wellington’s 10-year plan for tackling housing and homelessness, the Welcome In Drop-In Centre announced a plan of its own.
The centre, located at the corner of Gordon and Nottingham streets, has been working on a plan to create a hub of social service agencies working together out of its upstairs space, drop-in centre director Gail Hoekstra told the crowd. “We want to build a community-integrated team that really focuses on the most vulnerable people,” said Hoekstra. From Page 1
That team will include the Guelph Community Health Centre, the Canadian Mental Health Association and Stonehenge Therapeutic Community, Family Counselling and Support Services, as well as other organizations that help people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, she said.
The drop-in centre received a $165,000 grant, which was announced last November, from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The money will be used to install an elevator and to renovate the second floor – a space that is currently wide open and nearly empty.
“We’ve met with some of the key agencies and we’ve started to talk about how to build the space,” Hoekstra said.
On a tour of the space Friday morning, Hoekstra told guests of plans to create a meeting space, private space to be used by nurse practitioners and the like, office space, a resource area with computers, and even a casual kitchen area with café seating.
“We’re hoping by fall, the space will be ready to deliver service,” she said.
While the space will likely serve drop-in centre clients, too, Hoekstra stressed that it has a separate address from the centre and will be there for the whole community, with agencies doing outreach work for people with varied and complex issues.
“People who are at the drop-in can flow up here, but we want to stress that it’s for the greater community,” said Hoekstra.
The plan seems to tie in well with the county’s housing and homelessness plan.
Listed among the plan’s eight main goals is the goal “to promote practices that make the housing and homelessness support system more accessible and welcoming.”
“We know that dealing with government programs can not always feel welcoming,” the county’s director of Ontario Works, Stuart Beumer, said in outlining the plan. “How can we make the system work better for everyone?”
For Tina Brophey, part of the Guelph Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination and someone who has experienced homelessness herself, the plan to create a one-stop shop of sorts upstairs from the drop-in centre is one way the system can work better.
“Personally, I would have been much more quick to seek the help if it was in one place,” Brophey said.
Brophey also contributed to some of the research that went into the 10-year housing and homelessness plan, and she is glad to already see part of the plan going into practice.
“A plan isn’t worth much if we’re not following through with it,” she said.
A Place to Call Home
The plan, which was mandated by the Housing Services Act, is called “A Place to Call Home.”
Its vision: “Everyone in Guelph can find and maintain an appropriate, safe and affordable place to call home,” said Beumer.
It’s not an easy vision to realize when the average local one-bedroom apartment rents on the private market for $766 per month, but Ontario Works provides only $375/month for shelter, Beumer said.
“It’s a big problem,” he said.
At the top of the list of the plan’s goals is the goal “to help low-income households close the gap between their incomes and housing expenses.”
The plan includes actions for tackling this goal, including expanding existing rent-subsidy programs and advocacy for improvements to the income security system.
Other goals included in the plan are as follows:
• To provide a range of supports to assist people at risk of homelessness to remain housed
• To offer a comprehensive range of supportive housing options for residents with complex needs due to aging, disabilities, mental health issues and addictions
• To increase the supply and mix of affordable housing options for low- to moderate-income households
• To reduce the length of time and number of people that experience homelessness
• To preserve the existing and affordable rental housing stock
• To seize opportunities to turn research knowledge into action.
Among some of the practical actions to work toward these goals, Beumer highlighted the need to use funding in the emergency shelter system differently, in some cases, shifting funding from shelters to prevention programs.
In other cases, it’s about “having the right kinds of shelters in the right kinds of places,” he said.
He also highlighted the importance of having the right supports available for people. “If you’re in the shelter, it’s pretty hard to be focused on looking for a job,” he said. “Outreach and system navigation are important for people.”
It’s important that people understand that there are people in the community who are struggling, and that all the various stakeholders are committed to doing a better job of reaching those people, Beumer said.
The 10-year plan includes both short- and long-term targets, and it will be revisited on a regular basis to see if those targets are being met.
“Every year, we’re going to be updating the community on how we’re doing with our plan,” said Beumer, promising a more in-depth update at the five-year mark.
To see the complete plan, visit the county’s website at www.wellington.ca.
By Jessica Lovell