Windsor

Windsor-Essex shelters desperate to expand left out of $200M in provincial cash

Ontario is aiming to eliminate chronic homelessness by 2025, and handed out money to 21 communities. Windsor-Essex applied, but was denied. Toronto, for example, received $90 million, nearly half of the available pool of cash.

Two area help centres need financial support to expand as demand increases

Lady Laforet, executive director of the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women and Families, said the shelter is struggling to keep up with demand and hopes to move to a larger location. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Windsor-Essex won't receive a cent of $200 million in provincial cash to tackle homelessness, even as two area shelters are looking to expand to meet a growing "crisis."

"I think it's disappointing," said Lady Laforet, executive director of the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women and Families.

The shelter is currently bursting at the seams, forcing families into hotel rooms and some women to sleep on the floor. Last month, the centre exceeded 100 per cent capacity for the first time.

The government rejection comes at a time when the Welcome Centre is looking to purchase and renovate a new home. They've identified a former west-end school, which they believe will be placed for sale in the coming months.

With drawings and plans in-hand, Laforet hopes they're the successful bidder. Money has already been saved to purchase it, but only $200,000 has been raised for renovations — far from the $2-million total that is needed.

If all goes as planned, the larger shelter will be operational by early 2019.

Staff at the Welcome Centre Shelter for Women have placed six sleeping mats in the living and community rooms this week to accommodate more clients. (Welcome Centre Shelter for Women)

"Having women sleeping on mats ... it's let us know that now is the time and that once we start this move, this is to be our forever home," said Laforet, indicating sketches of the new site that were lying on her desk.

Almost half of province's cash went to Toronto

News of the provincial government denying Windsor-Essex any additional money to tackle homelessness isn't sitting well those trying to deal with the increasing problem.

In a statement sent to CBC News, a government spokesperson said the $200 million was given to "a select number of applicants who demonstrated the most effective, ambitious, and comprehensive plans."

Ontario is aiming to eliminate chronic homelessness by 2025, and has handed out money to 21 communities. Windsor-Essex applied, but was denied while Toronto received $90 million — nearly half of the available cash.

Staff at Windsor's Street Help Homeless Centre said part of that money could have gone a long way in the region. Right now, they can barely stay afloat after seeing a spike in people stopping by for meals.

Still, administrator Christine Wilson-Furlonger has big dreams. She hopes to renovate the upper level of their building on Wyandotte Street East into a place where homeless people could stay with their loved ones.

Christine Wilson-Furlonger from Street Help says Windsor needs places where homeless people can stay with their loved ones. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Wilson-Furlonger estimates the cost for renovations will top $100,000 and staff have set up a GoFundMe page to help financially. At the moment, the shelter is struggling to pay its bills, but she hopes to start the project in a few years.

"We do have a definite need in Windsor for specific sheltering of certain people who don't fit in, or feel safe or qualify to live in the shelters that exist now," she explained.

Wilson-Furlonger said couples have been forced to stay in separate men's or women's shelters. Even homeless people with animals have nowhere to stay together.

"How horrible is that?" she asked.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca

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