Plan to End Chronic Homelessness voted in by regional council

Waterloo Region is trying to end chronic homeless before 2030. A plan that has been in the works for over a year was approved by regional councillors Apr. 9 during the Community and Health Services Committee meeting. Final approval of the 90-page plan still needs to happen during a regular council meeting coming up.

The Plan is titled Navigating Complexity Together: A Roadmap to Functional Zero by 2030. The final report brought to council was created by more than 40 organizations like the local Canadian Mental Health Association and A Better Tent City. (ABTC)

The Plan to End Chronic Homelessness (PECH) reads that the region has seen it increase by 129 per cent since Jan. 2020 with a growth rate of 28 per cent year over year.

It reads, “If this trend continues, the community will have triple the number of residents experiencing chronic homelessness by 2028.”

During the meeting, about 15 people delegated to council, including a program manager for the Canadian Mental Health Association for Waterloo-Wellington, Matt Harrigan.

“I can tell you from being in those rooms, many individuals and organizations are willing and ready to support and end chronic homelessness but none of us are going to be able to solve this problem alone. It will take a whole community and of course the region’s support,” said Harrigan.

“We know social determinants of health, income, access to services and our physical environments are important factors in keeping us well. With the growing complexity to meet these determinants and the limited resources to do so we need to more effectively collaborate and integrate homelessness services with healthcare.”

The PECH addresses the need for more preventative measures and more permanent solutions. The region currently is utilizing emergency-based and reactive responses to homelessness.

In 2023, a survey from the Children and Youth Planning Table showed 13 per cent of youth respondents were experiencing homelessness in the region.

The Plan reads, “youth homelessness is on the rise across Waterloo Region, signalling the need for preventative, upstream strategies. Youth shelters are frequently at capacity and participants are as young as 12 years old.”

Nadine Green, a volunteer who works at ABTC spoke to council about the need to stop youth becoming homeless.

“It breaks my heart when I see younger and younger visitors at A Better Tent City looking for a cabin because our resident must be at least 25, the most we can offer these young people is a meal and washroom access before directing them to other services,” said Green.

Last month, about 558 people were on the Prioritized Access to Housing Supports (PATHS) List, which is the list of people experiencing chronic homelessness. The Plan states that some of those people are on the list live without permanent and safe housing, sometimes for three years or more.

As part of the PECH it states that the region’s homelessness operating budget for this year is $56 million and includes an increase of $10.2 million for the PECH.

It reads, “a total capital investment in emergency shelter, transitional housing and supportive housing of $110 million will be required. Operating expenditure increases of approximately five million to eight million annually for the next six years in order to fully implement the April 9, 2024 Report.”

Another statistic included in the report was the number of people on the PATHS list that identify as indigenous, which is about 12 per cent. It says this is an over-representation due to the fact indigenous people make up about 1.7 per cent of the region’s total population.

“What we have been doing isn’t working,” said Regional Chair Karen Redman during the meeting.

“This is an amazing document. This will cost millions of dollars, we’ve already invested millions of dollars we have to figure out a better way to do it.”

Some regional councillors however felt like their city or township was left out of the loop. The PECH states that area municipalities are some of the main partners in making the plan happen but Regional Councillor and Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, said it was a miss that municipalities like the City of Kitchener weren’t collaborated with for the report.

“One of the things that is disappointing has been the lack of engagement with area municipalities. When I look at the report at the beginning and I see all those partners listed, there is a big hole, a fundamental hole quite frankly. “

Regional Councillor Jan Liggett said she wanted to see more from the Plan.

“This is good, but we have more serious problems coming and that’s what I’m trying to prevent or at least play a part in solving.”

In an interview with CityNews 570, Joe Mancini, the director of The Working Centre said it is important the region sets the goal of eliminating homelessness.

“At St. John’s Kitchen, during the winter, every week we were meeting numbers of individuals who were becoming homeless for the first time,” said Mancini.

“The plan is really in the first stages. There has been a lot of community consultation but the specifics in terms of changing some of the structures in society around housing, around how youth are supported in school, around access to work. Those are big questions that have to be addressed.”

The next steps, as outlined in the PECH is to get ROW staff to create a funding and advocacy strategy that can be implemented in the 2025 preliminary budget.

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