Homelessness - Not just a big city issue
A special zoom meeting was convened on Monday evening, 7th December to highlight the growing issue of homelessness in West Elgin and Dutton Dunwich. The meeting was chaired by David James, Board Chair of the West Elgin Community Health Centre (WECHC) and was attended by staff and Board members from the Community Health Centre as well as staff and councillors from both municipalities, including the Mayor of Dutton Dunwich, and the Deputy Mayor of West Elgin.
Diane Arsenijevic and Stephanie Skelding from the Health Centre provided a summary of the issue. They are currently assisting eight people, ranging in age from 20 to 90, who are either homeless, or in danger of becoming homeless. David James said the community has an immediate emergency situation where if we encounter severe cold weather, people could freeze to death, but as well there is a need for a longer term solution to provide more subsidized housing for people in need. The Health Centre has hired a Systems Navigator, Sara Knight, to focus directly on people in the community facing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone wanting to know more about this service can call Sara at 519 768-8785.
The more than 20 participants at the meeting brain stormed possible solutions including providing emergency overnight shelter if we experience a cold snap, to using temporary housing, camper trailers or making use of empty buildings. All potential solutions come with challenges to be met, including providing hydro, water and sewage, possible changes to by-laws or zoning and costs.
Mr. James pointed out that the business of the Health Centre is to provide health services, not to provide housing. “We do not have the staff or resources to do that” he explained, which is why a meeting was called to bring councillors from both municipalities on board. He noted the staff and Board from the Health Centre will be pleased to be part of a team to address the issue, but stressed “this has to be a community effort”.
Members around the table represented many organizations besides the municipal councils. “We need to involve local churches and service clubs”, said Mayor Purcell, “...as well as getting the word out to the community at large”. There was agreement that for long term solutions a focus should be lobbying the County, Provincial and Federal Governments, but for the short term emergency situation we need to come up with our own innovative solutions.
A community based Emergency Housing Committee will be formed, in the short term with representation from both Councils as well as the Health Centre. The short term goal of the committee will be to assist those people already identified and keep them safe, but the longer term goal will be to provide more housing for low income families. That will mean working with senior government.
Any community minded persons interested in working with the committee, or with ideas for short term solutions to homelessness are encouraged to call David James at 519 768-3491, or to contact either municipal office or the West Elgin Community Health Centre directly.
The fear is that this problem will get worse before it gets better.