City of Windsor to pursue homeless shelter hub concept

The City of Windsor has learned many lessons through the pandemic, but one that sticks out to the commissioner of health and human services the most is the number of people experiencing homelessness — and the need to connect them with housing.

“People should not be living in a shelter system,” commissioner Jelena Payne tells CTV News. “It’s meant to be a temporary stop-gap measure until we can stabilize folks and get them properly housed and get them supported in a housing environment.”

A report will go before council on July 19, pitching the idea of the city constructing or renovating a space for a new, 60-bed homeless shelter and hub — with wrap-around services, all in one location.

The idea was born from the city’s foray into the temporary shelter space when a number of existing privately operated homeless shelters experienced COVID-19 outbreaks.

In April of 2020, the city also opened up the housing and homelessness help hub at Windsor Water World, which provides services to individuals experiencing varying levels of homelessness.

In that time, Payne says more than 22,000 people came for services. More than 1,100 people presented as experiencing some level of homelessness and 350 people were identified as being chronically homeless.

“That is like an alarm bell ringing. We have to get these people into housing and off the street,” says Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. “We learned that the existing system is not as robust as it could be and we learned that there were a lot of people staying in the shelter system, who have been staying there for up to two years.”

Dilkens says the hub model was so successful — the city wants to put its housing and homelessness master plan into action — and make the homeless hub permanent.

“There’s a better way to do this and it fits perfectly with the plans that we’ve approved,” he says.

Dilkens points to the city’s record investments into affordable housing in the past few years, including $12 million in matching funds for the new 145-bed Meadowbrook development and $170 million dollars to renew existing affordable housing stock.

Wrap around services at the proposed hub would include mediation, outreach supports, healthcare and mental health practitioners as well as addictions counselling.

Payne says the city would either build or renovate an existing space — and farm out the operations to a suitable operator.

The federal and provincial governments both have funding on the table, and Dilkens says he’d like the city to be shovel ready.

“I know and I think council understands that if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re not going to get different results. We have to take other steps that are going to improve the situation.”

If approved, Payne says the city will begin looking for a suitable location and planning process, which could take a year to complete.