On Wednesday, November 8, Climate Momentum held a Mixer at the Queen’s Inn. Guest speaker Ryan Erb, executive director of United Way Perth-Huron, addressed the lack of affordable housing in our community. Several CFUW Stratford members attended for greater insight into an issue to be addressed by our Advocacy Committee in 2024.

He said inadequate housing and homelessness have now reached crisis levels in our community. Driven by an ongoing shortage of housing, the cost to rent or buy a home has soared 60-70%.

Some 160 persons are homeless in Stratford. The problem has grown far more visible than at any time in the past.

Who are these homeless folks?

Low income individuals and families forced to devote a larger share of their income to keep a roof over their heads until they can no longer afford to do so. Some are coping with a loss of income owing to catastrophic illness, the death of a wage earner, or other trauma. Still others are afflicted with disorders arising from psychiatric conditions, substance use and chronic medical conditions collectively known as tri-morbidity.

Stratford needs to broaden the range of housing available for low, medium and high income families, seniors, University of Waterloo students, tourists, seasonal workers, and tri-morbid individuals. Mr. Erb said subsidized and supportive housing as well as market priced homes all are needed to address this challenge.

Compassion, care and housing should be available to those who find themselves in tri-morbid circumstances and may no longer be employable. Mr. Erb said housing is a human right. It’s essential to a person’s dignity, he said. Proper care cannot be offered to tri-morbid persons in tents or shelters. Supportive housing for those unable to look after themselves costs about half  what it costs to accommodate someone in a shelter. Supportive housing costs roughly 25% of what it takes to send someone to jail or prison. People would get the care and follow up they require in stable, long term accommodation. 

Supportive housing is now gaining widespread acceptance as the most efficient way to counter the rising number Canadians unable to afford a home. Mr. Erb called on us to support this third option, not only because it is cheaper, but because “it is the right thing to do.”

The City of Stratford, Perth County and St. Marys are now working together in what is called the Supported Housing of Perth Program (SHOPP). The program offers housing assistance and supporting services for persons who are homeless. It’s a good start. But it needs to be expanded.

Meals, showers, laundry facilities, and other services are now provided through the Connection Centre supported by the United Way. Six such centres will soon be located throughout Perth County.

We need to embark on a campaign that asks landlords to join in addressing homelessness. 

Clearly, more housing is needed to combat all the problems associated with homelessness.

November 22 is National Housing Day. The United Way will publish a report on its strategies to address these problems. This strategy will propose creation of a Housing Corporation. It will argue in support of housing that draws together people from different income levels rather than isolating them. Reduced footprint and better use of infrastructure are just two of the benefits to be derived from this approach. This initiative will be funded through the sale of community bonds in a capital campaign that will get underway in the very near future. 

On Tuesday, November 14 at 10:30 am, our Poverty and Affordable Housing advocacy sub-committee  will meet at Dariel’s to review the information presented by Mr. Erb and identify actions the group can take to help advanced this crucial file.