Af­ford­able hous­ing short­age strains shel­ters

Low va­cancy rates, ris­ing rent can over­whelm peo­ple liv­ing on lim­ited in­come

The Niagara Falls Review - - Front Page - GORD HOWARD

Feel like you’re see­ing more peo­ple than ever who seem to be liv­ing on the streets of Ni­a­gara Falls?

Blame the sum­mer, when home­less peo­ple don’t need to go in­doors to es­cape the cold. And some­times, peo­ple who look home­less aren’t.

But mostly, blame the short­age of af­ford­able hous­ing that’s putting stress on the sup­port sys­tem and driv­ing rents higher than many low-in­come earn­ers can af­ford.

“It al­ways boils down to hous­ing,” said A.J. Heafey, a com­mu­nity out­reach worker at the Ni­a­gara Falls Com­mu­nity Health Cen­tre.

“If there was ac­cess to af­ford­able hous­ing, there would be fewer on the street or even couch surf­ing. That’s a form of home­less­ness, too.

“If there was more af­ford­able hous­ing, what we would see on the street are the chronic home­less, not the episodic home­less or the ones who are just be­ing evicted be­cause they can’t af­ford to pay the rent.”

Last week, pho­tos posted on­line show­ing po­lice of­fi­cers evict­ing some­one liv­ing in a tent on the greens­pace along Vic­to­ria Av­enue near High­way 420 led to calls for a tent city in Ni­a­gara Falls.

That prompted talks among of­fi­cials in the so­cial ser­vices com­mu­nity, who feel ex­ist­ing ser­vices can still han­dle the needs of peo­ple need­ing shel­ter. But the lack of af­ford­able hous­ing strains the sys­tem, they ad­mit.

“That cre­ates pres­sure on the

shel­ters,” said Adri­enne Ju­g­ley, com­mis­sioner of com­mu­nity ser­vices for Ni­a­gara Re­gion.

“Not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause there are more peo­ple com­ing in, but be­cause they are in our shel­ters longer while they are try­ing to find a place they can af­ford.”

Rather than open­ing a tent city — which are rare in Canada, re­quire on-site ser­vices like wash­rooms and cen­tral cook­ing ar­eas, and bring risk of li­a­bil­ity for the landowner — “you work with your shel­ter providers to see if they can add ca­pac­ity, as op­posed to build­ing an­other ser­vice some­where else,” Ju­g­ley said.

In Ni­a­gara Falls, shel­ters in­clude Night­light Youth Ser­vices run by the Boys and Girls Club for young adults, and the YWCA of­fers shel­ter spa­ces for men and women. More spa­ces still are con­tracted out from within the com­mu­nity.

Across Ni­a­gara sev­eral other shel­ters are avail­able, in­clud­ing the Hope Cen­tre in Wel­land and Southridge Shel­ter and the

RAFT in St. Catharines. As well, an Out of the Cold pro­gram will open in Ni­a­gara Falls in Novem­ber, though the lo­ca­tion hasn’t been fi­nal­ized yet.

Those are looked at as short­term so­lu­tions for peo­ple in need. But without enough af­ford­able hous­ing in the com­mu­nity for them to move into, the units don’t turn over as quickly as they’re in­tended to.

As of Oc­to­ber 2017, the most re­cent fig­ures avail­able on­line, the Cana­dian Mort­gage and Hous­ing Corp. re­ports an av­er­age one-bed­room apart­ment in the Ni­a­gara Falls core rents for $787, with a 2.9 per­cent avail­abil­ity among 654 units.

Out­side the core, the av­er­age rent jumps to $847.

In On­tario, a sin­gle per­son on wel­fare re­ceives $656 a month while a per­son with one child gets $941. A sin­gle per­son re­ceiv­ing fund­ing un­der the On­tario Dis­abil­ity Sup­port Pro­gram gets $1,090, or $1,515 if they have one child.

“The cost of hous­ing on the pri­vate rental mar­ket has in­creased over the last num­ber of years,” said Heafey. “The land­lords that used to ac­com­mo­date peo­ple in poverty who couldn’t af­ford a lot, they’ve all raised their prices.

“You have a hard time find­ing an apart­ment for $600 rent any more.”

As well, some houses that used to be avail­able for rent are now be­ing of­fered by land­lords as va­ca­tion prop­er­ties.

Both Heafey and Ju­g­ley say the num­bers of peo­ple without any form of shel­ter are fairly small – Heafey said he could think of 10 re­cently, off the top of his head, in Ni­a­gara Falls.

“There were very few peo­ple on the street the last time we did a count,” Ju­g­ley said. “The ma­jor­ity of our home­less, prob­a­bly 95 per cent, were in shel­ters and there were very few who were un­shel­tered.”

Heafey said, “If I do think that some­body is home­less, I’ll pull over if I’m driv­ing and have a chat with them. Of­fer them my busi­ness card, of­fer them the avail­able re­sources.”

Those re­sources in­clude shel­ter ad­dresses and places they can ob­tain food and cloth­ing. He also asks the per­son if they’ll al­low him to check back with them pe­ri­od­i­cally.

“Most peo­ple do want a place to live,” Heafey said, adding gen­er­ally only peo­ple deal­ing with a se­vere men­tal ill­ness re­sist help in find­ing shel­ter.

Some­times, peo­ple are liv­ing rough be­cause their money sim­ply ran out.

“What’s good about this dis­cus­sion is that we’re hav­ing the dis­cus­sion, and that peo­ple are step­ping up to say, ‘What are we do­ing about this?’” he said.

“And we need to do some­thing about it.”

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