Leeds and Grenville mayors have asked the social services department to bring back recommendations for a homeless shelter in the United Counties.
The Joint Services Committee asked for the recommendations on Wednesday at the urging of Brockville Mayor Jason Baker, who said a lot of his residents were anxious for action on the homeless problem.
But the mayor made it clear that Brockville shouldn’t be automatically assumed as the site of the centre that would serve all of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.
Baker repeatedly has complained about the added costs to his city, especially in policing, that resulted from the temporary COVID-19 shelter operated in Brockville this spring.
According to a report to the committee last summer, the temporary shelter had to deal with security trouble from some residents who sold drugs, caused disturbances and threatened staff with weapons. The shelter was forced to evict some people for posing a danger to the staff and other residents.
Baker said the shelter put an added burden on the city’s police department. While the costs of the shelter itself were paid by the United Counties, with the help of provincial COVID-19 grants, the additional policing costs were paid by Brockville, he said.
As the largest municipality in Leeds and Grenville with its hospital, counties social services, housing agencies, addictions and mental health, and bus system, Brockville always has been considered the logical location for such facilities as a homeless shelter.
But Baker urged that the joint services committee cast a wider net when considering shelter locations, instead of using the “historic lens” that favours Brockville.
North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford, who is a vocal advocate for more affordable housing, indicated that her municipality would be open to welcoming a homeless shelter.
But Front of Yonge Mayor Roger Haley, who also chairs Leeds, Grenville and Lanark Addictions and Mental Health, clearly favoured a Brockville location. He asked that the social services department consider transit as a factor when recommending a site for a homeless shelter. (Brockville has a public transit system, Kemptville does not.)
Haley said the homeless tent cities that have popped up in Brockville point to an emergency situation as winter is upon us.
Peckford said North Grenville has a volunteer-run transit service so the lack of a bus system shouldn’t rule out Kemptville.
She said the lack of affordable rental housing in North Grenville has reached a crisis point, as it has in other communities.
As an example, Peckford referred to a working single mother in North Grenville who must be out of her apartment at the end of the month and is desperate to find an affordable rental for her and her kids. Counties’ social services and housing are trying to help, added Peckford, but the situation is becoming more and more common.
Warden Pat Sayeau cautioned that there are different categories of homeless and they shouldn’t be mixed. One group is “street people” who end up sleeping outdoors or in a tent city, he said. The other category is comprised of people in Peckford’s example – they have jobs and incomes but are unable to find an affordable place to live because of the housing market.
Peckford and Mayor Corinna Smith-Gatcke of the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands said the U.S. border closure to snowbirds has affected the housing market in their municipalities – but for different reasons.
In North Grenville, Peckford said snowbirds used to rent out their homes short-term while they wintered in Florida. With the border closed, those people are staying, so their properties are off the rental market.
In TLTI, Smith-Gatcke said it is a different problem. Many snowbirds have their summer places in her township and they head to Florida for the winter. The border closure means they are now looking for winter accommodations in the region because their trailers or summer cottages are not winterized, putting pressure on the rental market.
Rideau Lakes Mayor Arie Hoogenboom said that while the housing market is booming, hotels and motels are empty because of COVID. He suggested that social services negotiate with hotel owners for deals on blocks of rooms that could be offered to families in need at reduced rates. It’s not a perfect solution, Hoogenboom acknowledged, but it might meet temporary needs.
The committee launched its debate on a shelter while considering a report on grants that the counties have given to help the homeless.
Alison Tutak, manager of community and social services, said the John Howard Society, Victim Services of Leeds and Grenville and the Brockville Housing Partnership will receive money from the provincial Social Services Relief Fund.
The Brockville Housing Partnership will get $136,000 for a warming centre to provide a “safe, warm overnight space for homeless people during the winter months” in the city. The location of the centre was not disclosed.
Victim services will use $46,000 for more resources to refer clients to agencies that can help with housing.
The John Howard Society has $34,000 to help people who have been in trouble with the law find housing.
All of the programs will run until the end of March.