Kitchener-Waterloo

Non-profits hope landlords will rent to those who are homeless as part of emergency program

New emergency and temporary housing programs have been launched by Guelph and Wellington County non-profits and the Region of Waterloo to try to get vulnerable people homes before winter.

Stepping Stone says it will support tenants and rent will be paid via direct deposit

A homeless man during extreme cold alert in Toronto. Programs announced in Waterloo area hope to get more people housed before the winter. (David Donnelly/CBC)

New emergency and temporary housing programs launched by Guelph and Wellington County non-profits and the Region of Waterloo hope to find homes for vulnerable people before winter.

Stepping Stone, previously known as The Drop In Centre, launched a campaign Monday to find 20 market-rent units for people who are homeless or at-risk of becoming so. 

The organization will work with landlords who have available units, said its housing locator Damian Weston.

Damian Weston is the housing locator for Guelph and Wellington County non-profit, Stepping Stone. He took on the role last year and has been working to get the emergency housing initiative off the ground since COVID-19 started. (Submitted)

"We do need the support of the private market rent sector," said Weston. "My job is to engage with those landlords to convince them of the business case for renting to our clients and of the things that we can offer. 

"And then, after they have rented to us, to continue to support them so that they don't feel that they're alone in the process."

Stepping Stone has signed on to a nationwide effort by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness to record how many people are experiencing homelessness in each community.

In that database, there are at least 103 chronically homeless people in Guelph and Wellington County.

Data collected by Guelph and Wellington County and Built for Zero shows there were 103 people experiencing homelessness in the community in Sept. 2021. In contrast, Waterloo Region counted 382 individuals on the By-Name List in September, the highest count in the year so far. (Built for Zero)

Those people are the target population of Stepping Stone's program. For landlords who choose to take part in it, Weston said they have the security of knowing tenants have support through the organization and that rent will be paid via direct deposit. 

He said the initiative can house anywhere from 20 to 40 at-risk people in the area, provided it gets support from area landlords.

"You, on a very personal level, [can] reduce the number of homelessness in your own community — and that's huge," Weston said. 

House of Friendship plan

On Monday, the Region of Waterloo announced it will be partnering with the House of Friendship to temporarily house 25 men at the organization's former location at 63 Charles St. E. in Kitchener.

"When COVID started in March 2020, we had to move out immediately to avoid any outbreak," said House of Friendship executive director John Neufeld, who says during the organization's multiple location changes throughout the year, they served up to 130 people at a time.

The temporary solution will offer transitional housing with 24/7 staffing and support. It will not be a shelter and cannot accept drop-ins; instead, it will have short-term, referral-based accommodation, according to a news release. 

"Just due to the size of the shelter — it's also a very old building with lots of challenges and doesn't work all that well," Neufeld said. "For the long term, that building can no longer handle any real ongoing use."

Since the men's shelter located at the Inn of Waterloo due to a fire at the previous location, House of Friendship staff have been able to keep the 24-hour shelter care model running from their new temporary location in Guelph. (Andrea Bellemare/CBC)

Neufeld says the region is also working to find other short-term accommodations for the increased demand for emergency housing. 

"The region, together with the shelter system partners, are creating a few other alternative options that I'm anticipating will be announced this week."

Building more affordable units

The Region of Waterloo has also launched an interactive dashboard of its progress on a plan to build 2,500 affordable homes in five years. 

The plan, part of the region's affordable housing framework presented to council in May, shows an investment of $20 million in affordable housing development in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

According to the region, an average of 50 new affordable homes are created each year. For this year, 680 new homes are in development across the region, with 179 of the units planned as supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

"We believe everyone deserves a place to call home, and having a home in which you feel safe is vital to the well-being of our entire community," said regional chairperson Karen Redman.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto who likes writing stories about labour, equity and community. She previously worked for stations in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at vanessa.balintec@cbc.ca and on Twitter at @vanessabalintec.

now