WATERLOO REGION — Between November and May, the number of people identified as chronically homeless in the region increased by 34 per cent.
“It’s concerning. There’s a level of need in our community that collectively we’re not able to address and meet, as of yet,” said Chris McEvoy, a manager in housing services with the Region of Waterloo.
On Nov. 1, there were 271 people who were identified as chronically homeless. On May 1, that number had risen to 365.
When someone is chronically homeless, this means they’ve been homeless for a period of at least six months over a 12-month period, or for a year and a half over a three-year period. Every month, the number of people on this regional list goes up and down, but a 34 per cent increase is not typical.
Part of the reason for this increase is due to better data collection and improved connections with people, McEvoy said.
Last fall, the region created interim housing projects to make room available for those in immediate need. The new spaces led to the region re-establishing old connections or making new ones with people who were not included on the regional chronic homelessness list.
The increase is also likely from people “aging into chronicity,” moving from temporarily homeless to chronically homeless, he said.
“Our community, like many communities throughout Ontario and across Canada, does not have enough affordable housing and affordable housing with supports to meet the need that’s out there in the community.”
This list of 365 people identifies those who are most in need of housing and supportive housing, but it doesn’t reflect the need for affordable homes in the community.
Over the past year, the region was able to move 402 people into housing, including 180 people who were seen as chronically homeless. Last month, regional council approved a proposal to spend nearly $13 million this year on four affordable housing projects.
There are more than 6,000 households on the affordable housing wait list. If more homes aren’t created, people on the list could be waiting years before their turn comes up, McEvoy said. The number of people being added to the wait list is consistently greater than the number of people vacating the exiting affordable units.
To help address this growing problem, the region has set a goal of creating 2,500 additional affordable units over the next five years. To achieve this, McEvoy said select properties already owned by the region will be transformed into affordable housing units. Financial support from federal, provincial and local investments will also help create more units.
The wait list for housing units supported by mental health or addictions professionals is just as long, said Shannon Dodangoda, a spokesperson for the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington.
As of June 1, there are 983 people on the waiting list for mental health supported housing — an estimated wait of three to five and a half years. On the addictions supported housing list, there are 511 on the list — a wait time of two and a half to four and a half years.
The pandemic has created significant financial hardship with many people losing their jobs or unable to work, she said. House prices have skyrocketed over the past year which has impacted the availability of housing and rental stock.
“Housing stock for people with mental health and addictions needs is very challenging at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.”
There’s also been “a dramatic shift” in the baseline of mental health and addictions needs throughout the pandemic with a 35 per cent increase in calls made to Here 24/7, and a 40 per cent increase in emergency calls involving the police IMPACT team.
“The combination of financial and mental health/addictions consequences have fuelled the increased need for permanent and supported housing.”
Original Article: https://www.therecord.com/news/waterloo-region/2021/07/06/its-concerning-number-of-chronically-homeless-in-waterloo-region-up-34-per-cent-from-november.html