In March, MPP Steve Clark’s office issued a press release announcing $1,460,755 to help support the homeless in the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.
This funding was announced as part of the province’s $255 million investment through the Social Services Relief Fund (SSRF), to help protect homeless shelter staff and residents, and help prevent more people from becoming homeless. “Our government is once again taking immediate action to save lives by responding to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in emergency shelters across the province,” says Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and MPP Clark. “This investment will ensure our municipal service managers can keep vulnerable people and shelter workers safe by providing them with the financial ability to take any means necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 in shelter spaces.”
So, what does this mean for the homeless in North Grenville? The reality is, with very few services for the homeless in our municipality, the majority of this funding will be going to larger urban centres like Brockville. According to a 2018 Homelessness Enumeration Report conducted by the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, 70% of homeless people live in Brockville, 10% in Kemptville and 6.4% in Gananoque. However, the report does acknowledge that this data may be skewed by the number of survey locations available in each municipality surveyed.
Connect Youth is one organization that does have a transitional housing unit for youth in Kemptville. They also have two apartments in Brockville, one in Prescott and one in Spencerville. Executive Director Robyn Holmes says all their apartments are currently occupied and they have a waitlist of over 10 youth who are waiting for housing. “There is a dire need for temporary housing in all areas of Leeds and Grenville,” she says. “The reality of the current housing market means that there are very few rental units, and those that are available are financially unattainable for low-income individuals.”
The fight against homelessness is an issue that is far reaching and will stretch beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Robyn says that, ideally, she would like to see the government investing in a multi-level response to homelessness by way of emergency shelters/units, longer term transitional units, and affordable long-term options for individuals and families.
Connect Youth has received SSRF funding in the past and is still waiting to hear whether they will be one of the organizations benefiting from this most recent funding announcement. Robyn says that any funds received would be used to offset the daily programming costs associated with operating a housing program. This includes basic needs items (clothing, food, hygiene), emergency hotel stays, costs associated with purchasing identification for clients, transportation costs to support youth in accessing community support services, and cell phones to ensure youth can remain connected to supports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Current funding sources for Connect Youth include the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, the United Way of Leeds and Grenville, Reaching Home, which is administered by the federal government, and private donations from individual and groups. While they are very thankful for every dollar, Robyn says the current state of the housing market in Leeds and Grenville means that the cost of operating their program often exceeds funding received. “In addition to increased funding, our community needs to look at addressing the systemic deficiencies in our response to addressing homelessness,” she says.