Chronic homelessness in Waterloo Region climbs 34 per cent in 6 months

The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in the Waterloo Region increased by 34 per cent in just six months.

There were 271 people who were identified as chronically homeless in November 2020. By May 2021, that number jumped to 365.

The term chronically homeless is defined as someone who was homeless for at least six months in a year or for a year-and-a-half over a three-year period.

Region of Waterloo officials said some of the reasons for the increase include more connections with people, improved data collection and people within the system reaching that threshold.

“They’re ageing into chronic homelessness. They have a connection with service providers. They have a relationship,” said Chris McEvoy, manager of housing services with the Region of Waterloo.

The Cambridge Shelter Corp.'s board chair Sharon Livingstone said it has been busy lately at the Bridges shelter on Simcoe Street.

The shelter is following COVID-19 safety restrictions and to promote physical distancing they reduced their beds from close to a hundred to 34.

Livingstone said a lack of affordable housing and the COVID-19 pandemic are the reasons for the high number of people experiencing homelessness.

“The pandemic has driven housing prices up, so a lot of people who were landlords are selling,” said Livingstone.

The Working Centre in Kitchener said the pandemic isn’t the biggest problem.

“The main factor is the lack of stable full-time work that engages people and as importantly the increase in rents,” said Joe Mancini, the Working Centre’s director.

Regional officials said the numbers are concerning, but they're remaining hopeful.

“Through the $20 million dollars of investments by regional council as well as additional funds both provincially and federally, to invest in new affordable housing and supportive housing or housing with supports,” said McEvoy.

At The Bridges, Livingstone said they're also trying to stay optimistic and pointed out its recent successes.

“We have housed 110 people during the pandemic which is an incredible testament to our housing workers in our private landlords,” she said.

The Working Centre said it is doing its part to help those in need by supporting three major initiatives, such as A Better Tent City which moved to Battler Road this summer.