County’s Social Services Committee to Hold Special Meeting on Thursday

Just a couple of days after Guelph City Council ratified a slate of motions meant to direct action on homelessness, mental health and addiction issues in Downtown Guelph, the City’s social services provider will gather the committee that oversees them for a special meeting. On Thursday, Wellington County’s social services committee, which includes Mayor Cam Guthrie as a member, will answer some of Guelph council’s questions.

A report provided in the committee agenda, and often cited by city council in their meeting on Monday night, goes through most of the motions point-by-point. Authored by social services administrator Eddie Alton, the report reinforces that there’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes wrangling to find direction for the issues facing downtown.

“At a meeting chaired by the Mayor on June 10, 2022, attended by the County, the downtown businesses expressed concerns around the well-being of these individuals as well as the negative impacts it was having on their businesses. Numerous community partners were in attendance, sharing information on their mandates and the work that is being done,” Alton wrote.

Alton explained in response to a motion calling for quarterly reporting about the provision of social assistance that it can be done at the committee level, but since the County does not provide any mental health or addiction services, they obviously can’t report on their disbursement. That motion, “That the County provide quarterly updates on the provision of social services with a focus on homelessness, addiction and mental health issues, including performance reporting and key performance indicators,” removed the mention of mental health and addictions at Monday’s council meeting in response to Alton’s report.

In terms of an emergency meeting to hear from and respond to community social services providers with respect to urgent needs, Alton said that the County already “hosts and attends over seven different weekly, bi-weekly and monthly meetings dealing with needs of individuals at risk or experiencing homelessness,” which drive collaboration.

In terms of the gaps in the shelter system and getting 24-hour shelter coverage, Alton explained that there are 24-hour shelter options, and 12-hour overnight spaces in the core already, and that the County has increased shelter space 35 per cent during the pandemic. Having said that, the funding for that new space is coming from upper levels of government and might be discontinued in the not-too-distant future.

“Historically, the vast majority of emergency shelter system users are from the City,” Alton said. “The current split on the usage is approximately 91 per cent City with the remainder being County residents.”

In terms of those gaps, Alton did note the need for more mental health and addictions supports, both in the community and the shelter system. The Canadian Mental Health Association has prepared a proposal they’ve submitted to the Ministry of Health for expanded funding.

The report also noted the need for more supportive and transitional housing for individuals downtown, and the need for enhanced multi-disciplinary housing focused downtown outreach support. Both of these initiatives would required more funding though.

Alton’s report included a suggested motion to ask the Government of Ontario to “acknowledge the need for immediate action and flow capital and operating funding to municipalities and Service Managers in Ontario to lead the development of critical supportive housing programmes.”

The social services committee meeting will take place at 1 pm on Wednesday in the Guthrie Room at the Wellington County administration building on Woolwich Street.

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