Windsor

Here's how Street Help fits into the city's homelessness plan

CBC News is examining what it means to be a licensed shelter in Windsor and how drop-in centres fit into the city's homelessness plan.

'The application fee is there and why spend the money if we just don't need to'

Windsor Fire and Rescue Services has placed an order at Street Help Homeless Centre telling people staying there they must leave because it is not a shelter. (Street Help Homeless Centre/Facebook)

The Street Help Homeless Centre in Windsor was closed for a few hours on Friday night, after the fire department temporarily ordered the outreach centre to send their remaining clients to an overnight shelter.

Their concerns were for the safety of those homeless people who were planning to the spend the night there, so they encouraged people to go to a licensed shelter instead. 

But it turns out the Downtown Mission also isn't licensed, begging the question of what it means to be a licensed shelter in Windsor, and how Street Help and other drop-in centres fit into the city's homelessness plan.

Drop-in, but don't stay

"I was surprised to hear people were staying at Street Help," said Joyce Zuk, executive director of Family Services Windsor-Essex, explaining that Street help is one of few drop-in centres in the city, and that those services are essential.

"Because I value the drop-in function that they offer ... I know that a lot of folks go there during the day and I don't want to see them not be able to accommodate folks and give them a meaningful service during the day."

I don't think there's any other city in the province that we would be determined to close down a tiny shelter on the coldest night of the year.- Christine Wilson-Furlonger , administrator at Street Help

Street help administrator Christine Wilson-Furlonger said that many people had their own reasons — some citing safety — for not going to the mission or another shelter. She said it seems as though the city is giving less and less to the homeless.

"I don't think there's any other city in the province that we would be determined to close down a tiny shelter on the coldest night of the year," said Wilson-Furlonger. 

Hear more from Ron Dunn and Christine Wilson-Furlonger 

Zuk explained that in other communities, emergency warming shelters are opened on extremely cold nights because the shelters in those communities don't have enough beds. In Windsor, that's not the case. 

​"We have always had enough beds to accommodate anyone in our community that does not have a safe place to stay and so we don't need a warming centre. So it would lead me to ask, 'Do we need another shelter?' I don't know," said Zuk.

Licensed vs unlicensed 

Downtown Mission executive director Ron Dunn said that, like Street Help, the mission is not a licensed shelter in the city. For the mission, it's not something they're required to do. 

"A big difference for us is that we are 100 per cent compliant, so we've gone all the way up to that line," said Dunn, adding that the building has been inspected by the necessary city officials. "You know, the application fee is there and why spend the money if we just don't need to."

Right now the only shelters in Windsor that are licensed are the Salvation Army and Welcome Place. Because of that, they receive city funding. 

"When we did have that bit of government funding, they were very controlling for what we wanted to do," said Wilson-Furlonger.

For both Dunn and Wilson-Furlonger, independence for their organizations is important. Dunn added that the pool of money available for licensed shelters by the city is not large enough to provide the Mission with anything, even if it did become licensed.