Windsor's approach towards homelessness praised during housing forum

Windsor’s approach to solving homelessness was praised at the Windsor Essex National Housing Day forum during a panel aimed to dispel myths about homelessness.

'We like to think of Windsor as being superstars,' says 20,000 Homes Campaign director

A panel aimed to dispel myths about homelessness took place at the 2018 Windsor Essex National Housing Day Forum. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Windsor's approach to solving homelessness was praised at the Windsor Essex National Housing Day forum Nov. 19, during a panel aimed to dispel myths about homelessness. 

Moderated by Susie Redekop, community developer with the Homeless Coalition of Windsor Essex County, panelists included Insp. Tammy Fryer with Windsor Police Services, Marie Morrison, 20,000 Homes Campaign director and staff from the Windsor Youth Centre (WYC).

One of the things brought forward by the moderator for discussion is whether homeless people want to be homeless.

Morrison said people are only making the best decision they can for themselves.

"Sometimes the housing they can afford is so inadequate they decide the streets are best for them. The vast majority want safe, adequate housing," she said.

Staff from the Windsor Youth Centre weigh in on ideas people have about homelessness. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Windsor Youth Centre staff agreed that when people are choosing to be homeless, there's usually an extreme reason. 

"We'll find that sometimes there is a conscious decision made because they feel safer on the streets," said Donna Roy, manager at WYC. 

Another idea which the panel called a myth, was that homeless people are being shipped to Windsor.

Roy said the increase is due to a number of reasons.

"The climate is nicer, their dollars go a lot further here and there are better supports in this area."

According to Marie Morrison, every community in Canada, when asked, would also feel the homeless are being shipped to their cities.

"What we find most often is people will move to communities where they have opportunities to get a job," said Morrison.

Panelist Insp. Tammy Fryer with Windsor Police discussed how the police department is tackling homelessness. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Insp. Tammy Fryer with WPS said they plan to start tracking if homeless people are coming here for work, especially with the bridge and hospital being built. 

Fryer said most complaints that come into WPS regarding the homeless are about encampments people have set up for living. Though it might take a few months, Fryer said police are constantly trying to work with those people.

"We're partnering with city bylaws and with our outreach team," said Fryer. "We'll work collaboratively to engage with these individuals and put supports in place."

Both WPS and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) are working on tool kits to better educate the public. CMHA's tool kit will focus specifically on landlords, to build connections and break down barriers that exist due to the stigma of homelessness.

Morrison, who directs the 20,000 Homes Campaign, said Windsor is a "superstar" for the rest of the world to look at. 

The campaign has 30 participating communities and seeks to end chronic homelessness and house 20,000 vulnerable people by 2020. 

"Windsor is showing leadership nationally," said Morrison. She praised Windsor for focusing on what they could do, rather than what they couldn't do. 

We like to think of Windsor as being superstars.- Marie Morrison

"Instead of seeing problems as problems you can't do anything about, you see them as challenges," said Morrison. 

She carries gift cards in her pocket to hand out to the homeless, saying tackling the problem as a community starts small.

"It starts with saying hi to people."

National Housing Day is Nov. 22. 

With files from Chris Ensing