November 18, 2022 at 5:23 am
Chatham-Kent city officials say local homelessness has improved over the past year, but they are concerned about the future and have launched an initiative called CK Cares.
The campaign’s goal is to end homelessness by raising awareness of the issue and building a community of support to bust myths and remove the stigma surrounding homelessness.
Josh Myers, employment and social services program manager, said there were 98 homeless people in Chatham-Kent last month, down from 200 at the same time about a year ago.
“It’s worth celebrating now because people we know through Victoria Park (the new Chatham Shelter), we’ve seen them go through the system, get support, and go back into housing, but we know the cost of rent and I’m sure The legal clinic has seen the number of evictions that are on hold or in progress coming,” Myers said.
Myers also said there has been a reduction in the number of people at Chatham’s new homeless shelter.
The city reports that five affordable housing buildings will be completed in the next year. Blenheim also has three new affordable housing projects that need to be approved at Monday night’s council meeting. Mayor Darrin Canniff said the city has 200 affordable housing units but needs about 1,000 to meet current demand.
The CK Cares movement is only one piece of the puzzle, and the ultimate solution is more affordable housing, which can only be achieved with funding from higher levels of government, Canniff said.
The mayor said the campaign should help better inform the community about homelessness and stem rumours.
“People get the facts and get involved, that’s what we’re looking for, that’s a huge success. If we can get good donations and get all the other stuff, like volunteers (great). But that’s just the base of the message . If everyone in Chatham-Kent had the basic information, our collective life as a community would be better,” Canniff said.
Polly Smith, director of employment and social services at Chatham-Kent, said there was a misconception that the average user of homeless services was young men, when in fact it was people in their 40s, a large proportion of whom were women and some families.
Chief Administrative Officer Michael Duben said some historical myths need to be put to rest.
“Every homeless person chooses to be homeless, they don’t want help, they’re sent here from other communities, those are old myths and when we start seeing people in our communities don’t believe those myth, then I think we had some success,” Duben said.
Duben said he has seen elected officials and lawyers driven into situations of homelessness. Homelessness is driven by poverty, but it can also be caused by mental health problems or substance abuse.
Smith noted that Chatham-Kent County is experiencing a housing crisis, with at least three people becoming homeless each week, adding that about 500 people will be homeless in 2021. She said 21 people received affordable housing last month, but 17 were left homeless.
Smith also said Chatham-Kent has a one percent vacancy rate and rents have doubled over the past four years. The city says the crisis is not only affecting households with the deepest financial needs, but low- and moderate-income earners are also facing additional barriers in finding suitable housing. Smith encouraged people to donate money or donate space and volunteer. Rock Missions and Hope Haven also participate in the CK Cares program.
There will also be a summit addressing achievable housing on November 29 at the Capitol Theater in Chatham. The one-day summit, which will run from 9:30 am to 3 pm, aims to help regional stakeholders explore new solutions to address the lack of housing in rural communities.