New homeless shelter not needed: Grey

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Grey County has no plans to replace the emergency shelter forced closed last week by a court-ordered eviction of the Victorious Living Centre and its seven residents after a mortgage holder called in its loan.

"I think we have emergency shelter services available" in the absence of a shelter, Grey County chief administrative officer Kim Wingrove said in an interview. "They exist, they're working. There is nobody who is not getting emergency shelter services that's being left without any assistance."

Grey follows a housing-first model.

Emergency and long-term shelter is arranged through the YMCA, under a county contract. There's an after-hours emergency housing referral phone line open between 4:30 and 10 p.m. daily, run by Safe 'N Sound, which operates a drop-in centre, referral service and has a few long-term apartments.

After homeless people stay in motels for up to a few days, they're housed in various places, including in rooms above The Pub (long known as The Coach Inn), or at Stonetree apartments or Second Avenue Lodge, until longer-term housing is available.

Once stabilized in some sort of housing, workers refer each client to agencies to help with issues they're facing, such as addiction and mental health problems.

There are times when motels aren't available in the city, like during the annual salmon fishing derby, but then people may be housed in the motel in Chatsworth, Grey housing director Anne Marie Shaw said.

Grey County senior staff met with The Sun Times to discuss its response to the closure of the 15-bed VLC emergency shelter for men and women, which opened in 2009.

The privately run shelter had seven long-term residents and periodic, short-term homeless visitors. The VLC tended to receive people who had addiction or mental health problems and were hard to house.

A sidewalk protest in front of the former shelter, at 748 2nd Ave. E., has been ongoing since May 18, by a few former shelter residents and volunteer staff. The city has ordered them to leave and to remove their tents, chairs, kitchen table and defiant signs on city poles by Thursday.

The county issued a statement Friday which said a "handful of long-time occupants" were left homeless after the VLC closed. All were contacted and offered temporary housing or emergency shelter in the city, as well as other resources, it said.

Wingrove said the province has encouraged everyone to move "away from significant investments in emergency shelters and more into sustainable, long-term, stable housing for people."

"You don't want people to stay in that system (emergency shelters). It's not good for them."

But Safe 'N Sound drop-in centre manager Connie McKay said recently she's seen more homeless at her door in the past six months from southern Ontario cities here than since she started in 2014. This adds urgency to the need for a homeless shelter which can house people in need, while also being a central place to connect people with the services they need, she said.

She said the loss of the VLC could be a catalyst for a collective effort to build it.

Wingrove said there's only so much money in provincial and county funds. So far, she doesn't see the need for the county to fund a new shelter. Typically the county provided $5,000 to the VLC annually, though it gave $9,000 this year.

"If something changes out of this, then that's our duty as staff to bring that in front of council and to take it back to the province . . ." which fund housing programs.

This year Grey added a second homeless outreach worker. These workers also work with landlords to help them deal with problems that may arise with tenants placed in their buildings.

A city shelter wouldn't solve homelessness problems in other parts of he county, Grey County Social Services director Barb Fedy noted.

"The workers for the Y serve a population in Hanover and Markdale and Flesherton and Meaford," she said. "We don't just have persons that are vulnerable in Owen Sound. So it's important for us to have something developed," across Grey County.

The county conducted a provincially required survey of the homeless in April and found 36 people self-reported as homeless in Grey County. Some were couch surfing and not living outside, Shaw said.

That's not huge, she said. All were referred to the Y.

But finding long-term housing is a challenge too, when the city's vacancy rate is 1.7 per cent at last report, said Shaw, the county's housing director. County social housing also has a waiting list. And it's also seeing more applicants from cities including Toronto and Hamilton where wait lists are 10 to 15 years, Shaw said.

"Somehow, the word is out there that if you travel rural, wait lists are a little bit shorter."

Shaw said "obviously" we need more affordable housing and more places for people to go temporarily. "And that's something that certainly we are going to be looking at" when reviewing the county's 10-year housing and homelessness plan, which enters its fifth year in 2019.

Wingrove said the 10-year plan can be adjusted to meet changing needs as required. For example, now more homeless are single males, young and older people, where once it was more families who were homeless, she said.

That's why council has been advised probably some of the social housing the city's Westmount neighbourhood should be converted to better suit single people.

The county will be consulting to update its 10-year plan. Next year will be the plan's fifth.

"We want to look at how we can provide a system for homelessness. We have a system which is working quite well, but how can we enhance it?" Shaw said. The consultations will help set spending priorities, she said.




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