One of the biggest issues with a stay-at-home order is that you have to have a home to stay at. For that reason, the Government of Canada announced last month that they were offering $157.5 million in funding to address the needs of the homeless during the COVID-19 crisis, and the County of Wellington will be getting $720,000 of that money to look after the short-term needs of our area’s most vulnerable.
According to a media release from the office of Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield, this funding provided to the County through the Federal Reaching Homes program will be used for barriers to create some isolation in facilities, new beds, and to secure additional accommodation in hotels and motels to reduce overcrowding in shelters.
“It is important to recognize the additional costs front line service providers are facing in order to keep themselves and their clients safe, and to provide housing for the most vulnerable in our community,” said Longfield in a statement. “We are hoping to find some permanent housing solutions in addition to these temporary measures, as we work together through this health crisis. The strong teams and strong collaborations provide a unique opportunity to get this right now, and into the future.”
Warden Kelly Linton, who’s also the mayor the Township of Centre Wellington, told Guelph Politico by phone Wednesday that his team has been responding well to the challenges of fighting COVID-19, and that extends to co-operation with the City of Guelph.
“We do a lot of emergency preparation throughout the year, so we have our processes set out pretty well, and everybody knows their roles and responsibilities,” Linton said. “When we hit a real emergency, we’re ready to go from day one.”
In Guelph, the third-party agencies Royal City Mission, the Drop-In Centre, HOPE House, Wyndham House and the Guelph Community Health Centre have combined their efforts to deliver meals and services out of the Drop-In Centre, which is now open 24 hours -a-day.
In terms of the new financial assistance from the Federal government, Linton said that some of the money will be spent on more cleaning supplies, and more staff time to do cleaning. Linton also confirmed that there will be more money spent on beds, and for finding alternate facilities to house homeless people in order to maintain social distancing.
“We’re also going to have to increase our hours at some of the facilities things, so that results in a few more staff hours too,” Linton added. “We’re also increasing the amount of supplies and materials that we have on hand because everything has to be done a little bit differently now. Those protocols have also changed for our staff, and that costs money.”
According to Linton, the County as seen a “very slight” increase in the number of homeless people in Wellington recently, but exact numbers are hard to peg down because of the vast area the County covers, and because not everyone is so obviously homeless. “We often have people who potentially are homeless, but we don’t know it because they’re couch surfing or staying in other people’s houses,” Linton said.
While the County is able to cope with the needs of the mist vulnerable right now, and are grateful to the Federal government for stepping with new funds in an area that’s usually provincial jurisdiction, Linton said that he and his colleagues are mindful that this is a rapidly changing situation that will require them to adapt quickly.
“It seems like we’re making a bunch of our decisions based on two and three week intervals, because things are changing so much,” Linton explained. “Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we will have a sense of where the curve is going for Ontario, Canada and Wellington County. so we’ll get a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”
One of the things that they will be dealing with, Linton added, is the long term fiscal outlook of the County and a budget that has seen major disruption over the last several weeks.”
“County council will be asked to look at some of those priorities in time and really look at the the drop in revenue that we’ve had, and also the increased costs,” Linton said. “We’ll have to make some really tough decisions about what has to change as result of the pandemic, and what we can do in 2020, and then in our 2021 budget.”
The Government of Canada will also be providing additional funds for women’s shelters, counselling services, and to keep up with the increased demand for Kids Help Phone. There will also be $7.5 million for mental health support for young people and seniors, and an additional $9 million in funding through the United Way Canada for “practical services” for seniors like outreach, and delivery of groceries and medications.
“Here in Guelph-Wellington-Dufferin, we are quickly working with our community partners to increase their capacity to deliver programs and meet the increased needs of our community,” the local United Way says on its website. “We will be working together over the next couple of weeks to develop programming that will assist those who need support in the coming weeks and months with things like food delivery and hot meals and social support. As a community of agencies, we will work quickly and diligently and will update on our progress shortly.”
Linton said that that most important help he and the County needs right now is for everyone to do their part on social distancing, and following the directions of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. “I feel like that message is is getting out in Wellington County, and I know Mayor Guthrie is doing a lot of work and making sure that message gets out in Guelph as well,” he said.