City of Windsor says it's 'tipping the scale' toward ending chronic homelessness by 2028

There are more people going into housing in the City of Windsor than there are people entering into homelessness — that's according to officials working on the city's 10-year goal to end chronic homelessness by 2028. 

476 people were experiencing homelessness in the city as of March

Cathryn Dunn has been experiencing homelessness on-and-off for about five years. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

There are more people going into housing in the City of Windsor than there are people entering into homelessness — that's according to officials working on the city's 10-year goal to end chronic homelessness by 2028. 

"We are tipping the scale," explained Jennifer Tanner, the city's manager of homelessness and housing support. 

She said it's tough to say for sure if the city is on track to meet its 2024 goal of cutting the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in half, but said it's "heading in the right direction."

According to the latest data, there are 476 people experiencing homelessness in the city as of March. Those numbers are tracked through the city's by-names prioritized list, which keeps track of all people experiencing homelessness in the community. 

Cathryn Dunn is one of them. She's been experiencing homelessness on-and-off for five years.

"It's an epidemic," she said, of homelessness. She's hopeful that the city can make its goal to end it a reality. 

"If it's not done by 2028, then we've failed miserably. I think it's totally attainable."

'It hurts'

With the rising cost of rent, and the inability to work as a server during the pandemic, Dunn said she recently added her name to the Central Housing Registry in the hopes of landing affordable housing soon. 

Donald Bennett was homeless for about eight months before securing affordable housing about a year-and-a-half ago. He says it was a heartbreaking time. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"It will get better. I'm hopeful," she said.

That registry currently has 5,035 names on the wait list, but that includes individuals who are experiencing homelessness as well those already housed, but waiting for some place more affordable.

Tanner said about 900 people have been housed in Windsor since 2015. 

WATCH | Cathryn Dunn and Donald Bennett share what it's like being without a home:

Two Windsorites reflect on what it's like being without a home

2 years ago
Duration 0:39
Cathryn Dunn has been without a home on-and-off for about five years, and Donald Bennett was recently able to find a home.

Donald Bennett was homeless for eight months before he secured affordable housing in Windsor's Glengarry neighbourhood nearly a year and a half ago. 

"It hurts," he said of being homeless. 

"Like, you're crushed inside... It's really hard on people. It was hard on me."

'The solution to homelessness is a home'

He said that while he was homeless, those in the same boat became like family to him. Now, he likes to distribute food to those who need it as a way of paying it forward.

He added that he's glad to see the city working to support those without a home.

Jennifer Tanner, left, and Debbie Cercone are both leaders behind the city's 10-year plan to end homelessness by 2028. (CBC)

"The solution to homelessness is a home," said Debbie Cercone, the executive director of housing and children's services for the city.

"We do have people on the ground every single day trying to figure out and find out whether they can secure private market rental units and support people in those units."

But there's simply not enough affordable housing to go around, she said.

Road blocks along the way include the rising cost of lumber and cement that has made it more expensive to build housing.

However, Cercone points to new builds like the Meadowbrook development project, which she explained, will create 145 affordable units in the city's east end. 

She added that while there's also always a need for more funding to help address the issue, she explained that there are rent supplement programs as well as both provincial and municipal housing benefits available to households that are struggling with affordability. 

'Eviction prevention'

A key part of the city's housing strategy, Tanner explained, is that in addition to getting folks into housing, they provide supports to help keep them there. 

"Maybe a once a month check in with a family to see how are you doing? Are you able to pay your rent? Are you having any concerns? Is there some community supports we can connect you with?" she said, adding that some need more supports than others.

Colm Holmes does outreach work to ensure recently-housed individuals have the tools to stay in housing. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Colm Holmes is a Windsor-Essex Housing Connections co-ordinator at Family Services Windsor-Essex, which supports the city's housing portion of the 10-year plan. He performs some of these check-ins through his work.

"We definitely are in the business of eviction prevention," he explained. 

"Trying to help individuals salvage their tenancies, make change in behaviour if necessary, if they're having an impact on other tenants in their building, whatever they can do so that they can be a valued member of their community and feel like this is a home, in a place that they enjoy being in and a place that they feel safe."

The size of the issue can be overwhelming, but Holmes said he tries to focus on celebrating every individual who is helped. 

"On the days where it feels like we're pushing up against something that's never going to end, we have to remind ourselves that even one person's life change is a huge, monumental thing."

As for whether he believes the 2028 goal is achievable?

"I do think we can make that happen. I really do."


Katerina Georgieva is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Windsor. She has also worked for CBC in Toronto, Charlottetown, and Winnipeg.


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