Lambton politicians want provincial help for homelessness

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Rainbow Park encampment

Lambton County politicians are asking for a meeting with the Minister of Municipal Affairs to ask for help to deal with homelessness and addiction.

Lambton County and the City of Sarnia have been struggling to deal with dozens of people living in tents in Rainbow Park. Lambton County Social Services workers have been in the park trying to help the residents and to encourage them to use local shelters which are half empty. The county is also spending millions not only on those already sleeping rough, but on programs to keep people from becoming homeless.

Wednesday, Ian Hanney, Program Supervisor, Homelessness Prevention and Social Planning, gave councillors a review of the progress the county made in 2023 on the issue. Hanney says 318 people experienced homelessness, although not all those people were living rough. Sixty per cent of those people are chronically homeless.

He added the county has been able to help 892 families keep their housing with a housing benefit and 204 people were moved into permanent shelter in 2023. But Hanney says only two new housing units were created in 2023.

County Treasurer Larry Palarchio says over $6 million has been spent in the last three years to improve the current county housing units and to plan and build new affordable housing.

Hanney added community groups are working together to get the most out of the limited resources the county has to deal with homelessness and the county is working to develop more housing with mental health supports.

Sarnia City/County Councillor Chrissy McRoberts says even with the county’s best efforts, the community needs more help.

“The Ontario government has got to do something to help us, because folks are upset now. Their properties are being stolen from – wrecked. Communities are being broken into. But what does a municipality or a county do when we say ‘we have lots of beds’ and the folks that need them are going there, but there are other people that are a part of this puzzle that we have (that) we can’t handle them,” she said Wednesday.

” There’s no cells for them to be arrested and sent to, so they’re right back on the street. We have folks that are harmful to themselves and to others, and then we have those that are addicted that seven beds at Bluewater Health (detox unit) are not going to cover this and help us…What do we do with the folks that are a harm now?”

Warwick Mayor Todd Case agreed.

“It’s a serious issue, one that the costs keep going up, they’re not going to go down. I know there’s no silver bullet when we talk about an issue like this, but we really do need to try to advocate for the funding that we need to make this work,” he told county councillors. “And when you have people that are homeless, that’s one situation. When you have people that are unlawful and are creating situations and obviously impacts on communities. That’s another.”

County council agreed with Case to schedule a meeting with the Minister of Municipal Affairs to press for help in the critical areas of homelessness, addictions and mental health.

Valerie Colasanti, general manager of social services at the county, says at the meantime, county officials recently met with the Associate Minister for Mental Health about operating funds for a supportive housing complex in Sarnia. Colasanti has submitted a budget based on what Indwell provided for the average costs of supportive housing.