Advocates for homeless fear second wave could inflict even greater damage on most vulnerable
SARNIA, ONT. -- Some social agencies in Lambton County are raising concerns that a second wave of COVID-19 will inflict even greater damage on those with no place to call home.
“I’m concerned we’re going into another shutdown and that’s going to balloon things again,” said Tim Vilbrunt, a former client at River City Vineyard Sanctuary in Sarnia, who now runs a transitional housing program.
“If you’re homeless and you’re living in a tent somewhere, you don’t have the opportunity to stockpile food or anything like that. You’re having enough trouble just staying warm.”
And while demand for shelter beds is going through the roof in Lambton, that’s not the only concern.
River City's housing supervisor, Owen Vroom, said a number of concerns related to homelessness have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including the abuse of drugs.
“I’ve noticed a big increase in methamphetamine consumption in the city. And I think that’s directly proportionate to the shutdown, like people getting frustrated. Like so if you’re going in for rehab or something like that, a lot of those places closed down, so a lot of people have gone backwards.”
The concerns come as Lambton Shared Services, which oversees homeless shelters, reports that shelters use has doubled, and at times even tripled during the pandemic.
Homelessness Prevention Supervisor Ian Hanney said there are a number of contributing factors, including hidden homelessness.
“And the pandemic has highlighted that. A lot of those relationships have broken down, leading to them accessing emergency housing. Now we’ve been very pointed in increasing our efforts around diversion, hoping to divert people from emergency housing, by perhaps re-examinging those relationships - family, friends, those existing landlord that they’re couch-surfing or staying with.”
Hanney said they have been using hotel and motel rooms for shelter overflow.
In the meantime, in spring the county received $2.8 million in emergency funding from the province to tackle homelessess during the pandemic. A second installment is expected this fall.