City homeless shelters are still full and emergency funding has run out

Troy Shantz

Emergency funding that helped house the homeless at motels this winter has run out, forcing Sarnia’s two at-capacity homeless shelters to turn people away once again.

After the situation became dire last fall, the Erie-St. Clair Local Health Integration Network gave $45,000 in emergency cash to help shelter 100 individuals on 881 nights at local motels in January and February.

Among those needing a roof were 14 children.

When both city shelters were filled to capacity, as many as 15 people needed to use the overflow program some nights, said Myles Vanni executive director of the Inn of the Good Shepherd.

“Typically, we’d been able to manage everyone at the (Good Shepherd’s) Lodge, but circumstances changed in the last year and a bit, and that’s really made it more critical in terms of housing availability.”

The Lodge on Confederation Street has room for 20 men, four women and one family, while River City Sanctuary on Mitton Street can hold 22 men per night.

Amie Thomson, a direct care worker at the Lodge, said it’s been a difficult winter for people with nowhere to live.

The lucky ones are able to borrow a friend’s couch for the night. Others bunk in building stairwells or bank entrances, and some sit in 24-hour coffee shops until asked to leave, she said.

The overflow program is something new and it’s not known if money will be available again next winter, Vanni said.

Construction workers drawn by projects in the Chemical Valley and the rising numbers of international students at Lambton College have strained the housing market, driving up both home and rental prices.

The average price of a one-bedroom apartment in Sarnia is now $969 a month — a 10% increase in just the past four months — and units can go as high as $1,685, according to RentBoard.ca.

Not surprisingly, those who find a bed at the Good Shepherd’s Lodge are staying longer. Nights have become weeks, weeks have become months, Vanni said.

“It was never designed to be their home, but there’s nowhere to move them to, there’s no apartments to move them into.”

The warmer weather is making it easier to survive on the street, but the solution is more permanent housing, he said.

Sarnia has some affordable housing projects in the works. They include 30 units proposed for the former High Park United Church building on Brenchley Street, 21 units under construction at Wellington Flat beside Vision Nursing Home, 14 units on Copland Road, and seven units for at-risk youth in the former ABC daycare on London Road.

“Until we get some real structure built there’s just really not enough beds,” Vanni said.