Province announces funding for homeless shelters, housing

WELLINGTON COUNTY – It’s too soon to say what impact a $150 million cash injection of provincial funding for homeless shelters and longer-term housing will have at a local level, says the county’s social services administrator.

The Ontario government is providing municipalities and urban Indigenous community partners with an additional $150 million to continue to protect vulnerable people from COVID-19 by improving homeless shelters and creating opportunities for longer-term housing. The new funding, announced July 3 more than doubles the funding currently flowing to local municipal service managers and urban Indigenous program administrators through the Social Services Relief Fund, states a press release from the the offices of Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark,.

“We are standing shoulder to shoulder with our municipal and Indigenous community partners to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are protected during these difficult times,” said Ford. “Today’s investment builds on our collective efforts to help people get back on their feet quickly and recover from this global crisis. We will continue to be a champion for our municipal partners with the federal government to ensure a strong recovery for communities across the province.”

Municipalities and urban Indigenous community partners will be able to use this funding for long-term, innovative housing solutions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. They can renovate shelters or purchase new facilities that will help with physical distancing in the short term and support longer-term, more sustainable solutions to homelessness. In addition, this funding could also be used to provide vulnerable people with food, shelter and supplies.

Wellington County social services administrator Eddie Alton told the Advertiser any planning to access the a portion of the funding locally would have to wait until the government provides more details.

“Hopefully in the near future we will receive some clarification on the funding and possible usages,” he said.

Officials of the Welcome Drop-In Centre in Guelph recently submitted an unsuccessful RFP to the county to obtain federal dollars for a plan to purchase the Parkview Hotel to provide 36 permanent supportive housing units directly for our homeless population. The county instead opted to direct the funding to a seniors housing project, also in Guelph.

“The Parkview Project would contribute to a small solution to end homelessness … it was a creative innovative move toward a solution,” Gail Hoekstra, executive director of the Welcome In Drop In Centre, told Wellington County council at the June 25 meeting.

While the drop-in centre proposal appears to fit some of the announced criteria for the funding, Alton said it’s not certain at this point if such a project would be eligible.

“It is a little early to tell what the funds will be able to be used for as sometimes there is no allowance to spend the funds on capital. If that is the case the $1.2 million requested for the Parkview would still be an issue,” Alton explained.

Provincial officials state the funding is another way Ontario is coming to the table to support municipalities as it continues to work with provincial partners and the federal government on municipal supports through the federal government’s proposed Safe Restart Framework.

“We know that municipal and Indigenous partners are facing extraordinary challenges due to this global pandemic,” said Clark. “That’s why we continue to step up to provide financial support and other measures to help our local partners. This investment is another step our government is taking to protect our most vulnerable, but we know more needs to be done. We continue to work closely with our federal and municipal partners to ensure communities across Ontario have the support they need.”

With this additional funding, the government is providing municipal service managers and urban Indigenous program administrators with $350 million through the Social Services Relief Fund. This builds on the support being delivered as part of the COVID-19 Action Plan to Protect Vulnerable Ontarians. The action plan provides enhanced screening and testing in high-risk settings such as shelters and homes, including for those with developmental disabilities, and provides personal protective equipment and training so staff will know what to do in the event of an outbreak.

“The government’s Social Services Relief Fund was an immediate response to COVID-19 related municipal costs when it was announced in March. The initial $148 million literally saved lives in communities across Ontario,” said Jamie McGarvey, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

“The additional $150 million announced today will help offset the added costs of addressing homelessness and protecting the most vulnerable from COVID-19.”