Is homelessness a local problem?

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The United Counties recently released a report on homelessness and housing, and some residents may be left asking the simple question: “Is homelessness a local problem?” Homelessness can seem like a big city problem, but it happens here in North Grenville as well.

“There is indeed homelessness across Leeds and Grenville including North Grenville,” said Alison Tutak, the Counties’ Director of Community and Social Services. “We have in place a ‘By Name List’ which is a real time count of those who may be homeless.” She explained that since not everyone who is homeless may be comfortable with self-identifying as such, the actual number of homeless people locally may be higher than figures suggest. The “By Name List” currently has 106 people on it. “There is homelessness in North Grenville, and like many of the areas of Leeds and Grenville, this may be hidden homelessness which in some cases may look like couch surfing,” Alison added.

It’s important for those who are homeless or at risk of being homeless to know how to get help. Alison was helpful in this regard. “If someone in North Grenville is facing the prospect [of homelessness], it would be important to connect with a local service agency,” she said. “If they were to call the United Counties, we would be able to assist them with the various options that may be possible. The first question would always be where they are currently residing and if they might need some assistance and support to preserve the existing tenancy. We assist hundreds of people every year with financial assistance to help them not lose their current housing so as to prevent homelessness. This is always the best first approach.”

Alison further explained that for those who do become homeless, there are supports with which they can be connected, as well as “transitional housing units” located in North Grenville that are used to support individuals on the “By Name List”. Connect Youth also has one unit that is used to support homeless youth in North Grenville. “Our goal is generally to support folks to remain in their own community,” Alison added.

The current economic situation in Canada is tough for many people. Prices for everything are on the rise, but housing prices are perhaps the most alarming. Alison points out the discrepancy between the cost of rental housing and the very low rates of social assistance people can receive (a maximum of $733 for a single person). She says that this greatly impacts the ability of people to sustain affordable and safe housing. “Unfortunately, without additional investments in mental health and addictions, along with the low rates of social assistance and rising housing costs, I do fear that the need for support will continue to grow,” Alison explained.

The current situation may not be ideal for some, but Alison is proud of the work that the Counties has done and continues to do. “I think the Counties has made very positive strides toward addressing homelessness,” she said. “There is much work still to do and there is always room for improvement. We are keen over the next few years to develop a strategic plan to address homelessness and work collaboratively with our many community partners to reduce and ultimately eliminate homelessness in our community.”

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