‘It took a crisis’ for the Waterloo Region government to change its approach to homelessness

WATERLOO REGION — Waterloo Region’s monumental shift to sanctioning at least one encampment has been spurred by the realization that homelessness has reached crisis levels.

It is estimated that more than 400 people in the area are sleeping outdoors.

Com. Elizabeth Clarke, who has been one of the council’s leaders on the issue, said it was hard to acknowledge that the area’s ‘housing first’ philosophy was simply not working well amid the crisis unprotected.

“Early on with this approach, we had some success,” Clarke said. “That certainly hasn’t been the case in recent years, but it’s hard to get away from that philosophy, which you still think is the right philosophy.

“I think it really took a crisis to push us to realize that … we are at a point right now where we have to put in place interim measures because ‘housing first’ just doesn’t meet the needs of everyone right now.”

The Housing First approach is not about making people “more comfortable in their homelessness”, Clarke said, but about working to end their homelessness.

On Thursday, the regional council upheld an earlier vote to allow a managed temporary outdoor shelter for up to 50 people.

Staff will work with local municipalities to find a location.

Details of what this will look like are still uncertain, but staff have been cleared by the council to do whatever is necessary to make it happen.

Officials expect it to look something like A Better Tent City on Ardelt Avenue in Kitchener, which houses people in tiny lockable, heated houses.

Udanapher (Nadine) Green told the board the model is working and said no one is given a deadline by which they must leave.

“I know it works because I live there and we have 50 people who would have missed out,” she said of locals.

The decision to allow a managed camp stands in stark contrast to the regional government’s decision to try to evict about 50 people living in tents at 100 Victoria St. N. on land owned by the region.

But there has yet to be a discussion with council about withdrawing the region’s petition to the Superior Court, which is seeking an order allowing police to physically remove residents and prevent them from returning to the site. site.

“There was no discussion with the board about this,” Clarke said.

The next court date is scheduled for November 7, after the October 24 municipal elections.

Several delegations present at the region’s meeting on Thursday urged the council to withdraw its legal claim.

“You don’t need the courts telling you what to do,” said Rob Deutschmann.

“You can’t ask people to work with you and lend you their invaluable expertise while suing them,” Meagan Snyder said.

As part of its homelessness plan, the region will also expand transitional housing, emergency shelter and home support programs, and advocate with higher-level governments for more funding.

In 2023, the region expects it will cost approximately $10 million to achieve all of these goals, which will be implemented in early fall.

Councilors criticized the province in particular for not providing enough funding, but agreed that people experiencing homelessness in Waterloo Region need help.

“We have to do this for our community,” Galloway said. “We need to do this for our citizens who need this level of service.”

Staff have already started working on council guidelines, including figuring out what will happen with the 60-space temporary shelter at the former Edith MacIntosh daycare. It is scheduled to close at the end of the month.