More support needed while region builds permanent shelter in Waterloo

The number of people in the Region of Waterloo without stable housing is on the rise.

"Numbers are not getting any smaller, with the warm weather we know it will probably increase," said Councillor Jim Erb.

With around 400 people in the region living outdoors, the region is extending its emergency shelter program until the end of June.

"They have a number of people who are still in those shelters," said Erb. "We want to try and work to create as much accommodation for them as possible plus beyond June when St. Andrew's and the YW close."

But emergency shelters, which is typically a bed in an open room with dozens of people, presents its own set of problems.

"It's a pain in the neck," said one resident of a local encampment. "You literally have to sleep on your stuff or it gets stolen."

"I had a bad experience last time I was there," said another. "It was scary."

Construction has already begun on a permanent shelter at the former Waterloo Comfort Inn.

The shelter, operated by the House of Friendship, will house 100 adult men in double rooms.

It will also provide wraparound services.

"In this building we will be able to have primary care, addiction services, [and] we'll have programs running," Jessica Bondy, House of Friendship's housing director, told CTV News. "Our team is able to build connection and work alongside the people who are housed here."

The goal is provide the stability and resources needed to help the men find permanent housing.

Since the facility won't be ready until Fall 2022, other groups are needed to step up.

"Many of these agencies are doing incredible work and together we are going to be able to move the needle on homelessness."

Councillor Erb said the region is looking at other opportunities to bridge the gap until the new space is open, but they'll need funding from the upper levels of government to make it happen.