Housing has been a hot topic of conversation in Guelph and the surrounding area, so any housing announcement from any level of government has got obvious news value. On Wednesday, the value is nearly $6.4 million from the Federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative, plus $25,000 through the SEED, and $460,000 from the Ontario Priority Housing Initiative. The recipient, in this case, is Grace Gardens.
As you may recall, Grace Gardens is the future home of 32 supportive housing units at the site of old Parkview Hotel on Woolwich Street. The project was approved by Guelph city council last year, and construction has been underway since that summer and the plan is that it will be completed later this year. Gail Hoekstra, the executive director of Stepping Stone, said that the additional funds will help Grace Gardens be ready for a summer opening.
“We’re just thrilled to have this project get the funding it needs to make it really beautiful and deeply affordable. A beautiful place to live for our community members that have been homeless for years and struggling with mental health and addictions,” Hoekstra said. “I think the vision for all of us that work in homelessness is simple: People need affordable housing and those that are chronically and struggling with acute issues need permanent supportive housing with staff attached.”
Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, was on hand for the announcement and said that this was another positive sign of progress being made across Canada to address homelessness.
“Our government has built over 69,000 new units of housing, and repaired and renewed over 90,000 homes, and on top of that, our plan has reduced or eliminated the housing needs of 320,000 households through not just the building of affordable housing, but also providing rental support through the Canada Housing Benefit,” Hussen said.
“Financial burdens and barriers to adequate housing have to be tackled by all levels of government and by the private and non-profit sectors,” he added. “I always say that for us to exceed our targets in the National Housing Strategy, we can’t do it alone; we need those supports, partnerships and collaborations.”
The partnership piece is key. Wellington County Warden Kelly Linton explained the kind of support that Grace Gardens is receiving from the Federal government would not have been possible with the County as the sole, or main funder.
“We do not have the funds at the county level at this point to support this sort of project, so we’re absolutely 100 per cent thankful to the Federal government for coming through for this program,” Linton said. “With strategic investments like this, it provides us the opportunity to expand the level of services that we provide to citizens who really need it, and it may help us spread out the number of programs and services that we can provide to our residents county-wide.”
Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie noted that city council has moved quickly in the last year approving three new supportive housing projects to address the issue of homelessness in the Royal City. “It’s important to note that there was no appeal process for this particular project from the community,” Guthrie said, although he did note that there’s an appeal currently underway for the County’s project at 65 Delhi Street.
“When you ask the question about trying to end homelessness, it is a whole community effort to understand the processes, and how we can get funding for these projects as quickly as possible,” Guthrie explained. “Any type of hurdles, or any types of appeals – although people may have the right to do so – stalls our efforts to get to the end of homelessness in Guelph.”
Speaking of the end of homelessness, Guelph and Wellington have had a goal to end homelessness in the region by 2023, which as you may know, is now less than a year away. Are we in a position to achieve that goal?
“We’ve got a number of projects that we’ve identified, and we have had some stress because of COVID where the Point in Time counts have gone up a little bit,” said Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield. “Systemic and long-term homelessness is what we’re addressing through projects like this, and if we were able to land all the projects that we’re dreaming of, then we know that we can get to zero.”
“I think our focus is really on the people on the By-Name list who have been homeless for a long time and are struggling with mental health and addiction issues, and that’s around 130 individuals,” Hoekstra explained. “There are other individuals that are homeless in our community because of situational concerns, and we are not able to find them housing because of our overall housing crisis, but through permanent supportive housing, we’re really focusing on those 130 people.”