Windsor

Chatham-Kent's first homeless count already shows need for more funding, says director

A provincial-wide directive to count the number of people who are homeless has already shown a need for more funding in Chatham-Kent, just days after the counting began.

80 volunteers are conducting surveys with homeless people in the area

Director of Employment and Social Services for Chatham-Kent, Valerie Colasanti, said she expects the number homeless people to be lower than previously estimated. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A provincial-wide directive to count the number of people who are homeless has already shown a need for more funding in Chatham-Kent, just days after the counting began.

Eighty volunteers have hit the streets and service centres in the community to conduct surveys with people who are homeless.

"One of the things that's common and we're seeing more and more [is] people who appear to be suffering with mental health and addictions," said Valerie Colasanti, director of employment and social services for Chatham-Kent. 

"It's going to be a challenge for us to offer some programming with them."

'Huge' increase in mental health issues

Colasanti said the challenge comes from a need for more funding after hearing firsthand accounts of what people who lack housing are dealing with. 

"The increase in mental health in particular is just huge," said Colasanti. 

Chatham-Kent is doing its first count of homeless people to help improve programming. 1:00

"We do know that we're going to require additional funding through our homelessness program. [We're] happy for the dollars we have now to provide programing but absolutely we're going to need more."

A consultation group did a study on homelessness five years ago for Chatham-Kent and estimated that about 300 people would be homeless throughout the year. 

Lower number expected 

Colasanti expects the numbers to be lower than the estimate once the count is completed and the results are presented to the community in May. 

"We've put in place a lot of proactive programs," she explained, highlighting Chatham-Kent's Homeless Response Line.

Program manger with employment and social services, Chantal Perry, said Chatham-Kent's homeless helpline has been a successful tool to help the homeless. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The homeless response line is a round-the-clock response line people without a place to stay at night can contact to be connected with accommodations.

"We're really hoping that the numbers have gone down."

Homeless help line 

The phone line received about one call each day in 2017, with a total of 290 calls from 198 people, according to Chantal Perry, program manger with employment and social services.

"A team will go out to anybody that's placed and wrap supports around them and start to welcome them into our housing and homeless support system," Perry explained.

Posters with the Homeless Response Line phone number have been posted throughout the community. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The number of calls were up over the last two years, but Perry said that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"We don't think that's because there's a higher need," said Perry. "We actually think it's because more people know about [our services]."

'Deserve to be heard'

Desiree Heard is one of the 80 volunteers helping with the count this week. She said Chatham-Kent can't pretend homelessness is only a problem in bigger cities and other areas.

"It's happening here and we see it and we can not ignore it."

"One of the things that's common and we're seeing more and more - people who appear to be suffering with mental health and addictions," - Valerie  Colasanti

Heard was at the Salvation Army Community Services Centre, one of more than 30 places where volunteers were set-up to conduct surveys.

She heard from one man who talked about being kicked out by his parents because he was gay. He told her he couch surfed, lived under a bridge and relied on friends for a place to stay. 

The province told communities to do a count of homeless people so they have better data for the homeless strategy. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"People have things to say and we need to listen," said Heard, who has worked in social services for more than 10 years. "We can use this information to really help the individual. We're talking about people here, we're not talking about objects. These are people and they do have experiences and they do have things to say and they deserve to be heard."