Region seeks input on homelessness from those with lived experience

By Casey Taylor

The Region of Waterloo is signalling some big changes may be on the way in how it works to ease the local housing crisis.

Among those is a new working group made up of about a dozen people who have been or are currently without a home. The Lived Expertise Working Group was originally formed to advise the City of Kitchener on issues pertaining to homelessness but is also now working with the region as part of a push to develop a new Homelessness Master Plan.

“What we're looking for and really trying to advocate for throughout this is trying to have lived expertise whether that be as advisors and strategists in these conversations, but also in the applied co-management of transitional housing or temporary housing solutions,” said David Alton, facilitator of Kitchener's Lived Expertise Working Group on Housing.

This comes as the region also continues to consider a number of other short-term options aimed at easing the local housing crisis. Among those, what is being called a 'hybrid shelter/outdoor model' which would essentially amount to a region-run encampment similar in style to 'A Better Tent City.'

Alton said the working group is also advocating further steps to decriminalizing the region's approach to dealing with the homeless and homeless encampments.

“We know that they're thinking and talking about things like sanctioned encampments and we're hoping that is paired with stuff like a moratorium on encampment evictions or a withdrawal of the court case against encampment residents,” Alton said, adding by working with the currently un-housed the region can build trust and boost the likelihood of future efforts being more successful.

“Because people in un-sheltered communities are trying their hardest and are working together to make sure that their communities are safe, that their communities are resourced, but they're working with a very limited pool and we're hoping this new decriminalized approach can really resource what they're doing,” Alton said.

The Region of Waterloo, meantime, also continues to face a number of resource-related issues.

Also on the agenda at a special council meeting Thursday evening is an extra $3.42 million for this year's Housing Services Operating Budget and a renewed call for both the provincial and federal governments to loosen their purse strings and pony-up.

Council is also being asked to indicate its intent to tap into future regional development charges to help fund future local housing solutions. That though would also require changes being made to the regional development charge by-laws.

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