St. Thomas, Ont. unveils 'compassionate' plan to combat homelessness crisis
ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- With temperatures plummeting on winter nights, the housing crisis in St. Thomas, Ont. is visible.
The homeless are sleeping in doorways, wandering Talbot Street and now even seeking refuge in abandoned semi-trailers.
People experiencing homelessness have been sleeping in these semi-trailers behind Memorial Arena in St. Thomas, Ont. as seen Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (Brent Lale / CTV News)
"The biggest barrier is homelessness, we see that everyday walking the beat," says Brianne Graham, a Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) mental health worker with the St. Thomas Police Service (STPS).
"Every day we see and talk to individuals who don't have anywhere to live."
The City of St. Thomas is working to combat the issue and on Monday revealed a comprehensive action plan aimed at meeting the needs of its most vulnerable and homeless.
The multi-part plan is called 'Compassionate Community.'
It includes the acquisition of 10 Princess Ave., which will be the new home of Inn Out of the Cold. The building will see the overnight shelter at Central United Church (CUC) and the daytime services at 423 Talbot St. under one roof.
The building at 10 Princess Ave. will be the new home of Inn Out of the Cold in St. Thomas, Ont. as seen Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (Brent Lale / CTV News)
"We are grateful for CUC for hosting us for 10 years," says Lori Fitzgerald, executive director of Inn Out of the Cold.
"We've been working with the city for several months, and they've been able to secure funding from the province for us to move into this space of our own. We're excited to have an amalgamated space where we can be 24/7. Guests won't have to be disrupted and move around town to use the services."
There will also be potential for some permanent housing units in the building. The STPS will station its Mobile Outreach Support (MOS) Team there to better serve the downtown area.
"We walk the downtown core as the MOS Team," says Graham. "Sometimes being at police headquarters is uncomfortable for people and this allows us to meet them where they are."
Renovations will begin soon and guests should be able to use the shelter by August.
Along with the shelter, city council has awarded a contract to Graceview Enterprises to fulfill the construction of 16 microapartments on the second floor of the Transit Building at 614 Talbot St.
The plan is for them to be available by September.
An artist's rendition shows the proposed layout of microapartments planned above the Transit Building in St. Thomas, Ont.
The city has entered a partnership with Indwell Community Homes. They specialize in the developing and managing affordable housing.
While many housing and homeless advocates have been pushing the Mayor Joe Preston with their own ideas on how to solve the crisis, many agree joining forces with Indwell is a great idea.
Indwell will lease the new units at the Transit Building and provide the day-to-day supports for the tenants who will make it their home.
Indwell will also plan 45 new affordable-housing units at 230 Talbot St., and an additional 48 in a three to four-storey building on the northwest corner of Ross Street and Centre Street.
That building would include the St. Thomas Food Bank on the ground floor.
"It is the glue that puts it together," says Preston. "They are experts in the field of supportive housing, and how to take people from homeless and shelter situations with the support on mental health and put them into full-time housing. The more people we can put in full-time housing, the more successful we are as a community."
These projects are being funded by senior levels of government.
“I am proud that the provincial government is providing essential support of over $920,000 for a new shelter in the city as part of our over $3.3-million investment to help protect the health and safety of our most vulnerable St. Thomas neighbours,” said MPP Jeff Yurek in a statement.
“It is critical that all members of this community have a safe and warm place to call home during these challenging times.”
Fitzgerald says this announcement feels like a huge step in the right direction. Especially since the pandemic has brought forth a whole new set of challenges for the community.
"This compassionate project will be key and life-changing to many of our guests,” says Fitzgerald.
"The microapartments over the Transit Building is an amazing intervention for not only housing, but also the support component. Those supports are crucial to not only obtain but maintain long-term housing. Prior to this housing options for our guests were limited, especially during COVID so this will make a significant difference for our guests."