Windsor's homeless population reaches 'crisis' levels, says aid agency

Street Help in Windsor is calling the homelessness situation a crisis. Normally the drop-in centre serves about 200 people a day. Lately, that number has jumped to about 300 people each day.
Peter Turner has been homeless since March and has relied on Street Help for assistance. The agency says homelessness in Windsor is on the rise. (Jason Viau/CBC News)

Peter Turner feels like he's "blowing in the wind" as he bounces from couch to couch without a place to call his home.

The 46-year-old, who battles mental health and addiction issues, has even spent a few grim nights sleeping on the street since he found himself homeless in March after falling out with a friend. 

"It was constantly moving, packing, living out of a suitcase, dragging the suitcase from place to place and just feeling like I didn't belong anywhere," Turner said. "You just feel like you're blowing in the wind."

Turner has turned to Street Help for support and he's not alone. The homeless drop-in centre has seen an alarming rise in the number of homeless seeking help. The agency used to serve about 200 clients a day but that number has lately skyrocketed to 300.

"I do call it a crisis. There should not be that many people sleeping outdoors. This is Canada, it's cold out there," said Street Help administrator Christine Wilson-Furlonger. "I've never seen my freezers empty out so quickly and my bank account plummet because we have to meet those needs."

Already this year, Street Help has distributed about 500 sleeping bags. Ordinarily, the agency would hand out 300 all year. 

Other homeless shelters are also experiencing similar problems. The Welcome Centre for Women is at 102 per cent capacity, the first time this has ever happened. Women and families are forced to stay in hotel rooms.

The Salvation Army is full as well. Many people are arriving with carts carrying the few belongings they have left, leading officials to believe they're newly-evicted.

Turner reached out to the local Canadian Mental Health Association for support and, after six weeks of waiting, he recently learned he'll have a place to call home come Nov. 1. 

Others struggling on the street might be able to find a home and some stability through the city's housing first program, an essential plank in the plan to eliminate chronic homelessness by 2024. 

The housing first program, which has already helped more than 200 people find a home, offers clients a roof over their head before focusing on mental health and addiction issues. 

"You can't even begin to address the other issues until someone has a stable roof over their head," said Kelly Goz, city coordinator for housing administration and development. "If we can someone into housing first, and the other things can get addressed at a later time, we've been shown that is the most successful approach."

Like many other programs, there is a wait list. Currently, those who have been waiting the longest are next in line for help. By the end of this year, city officials say those who are most vulnerable will be the priority.

"It creates greater accountability for the municipality," said Goz.

It allows the city to understand each person's situation and ensures the homeless are no longer just a statistic but a face and a life story.


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