EDITORIAL: Finding solutions to homelessness requires balance

If you’ve been watching with a wary eye the housing and shelter issue in bucolic Prince Edward County over the last decade or so, you can understand how Picton Councillor Kate MacNaughton became emotional last week during a presentation by Prince Edward Lennox and Addington Social Services team member Connor Dorey.

Dorey was speaking to the Committee of the Whole, offering a snap shot in time of the homeless situation in the County and Greater Napanee areas and had some specific numbers on the issue at hand this side of the Skyway Bridge.

According to Dorey and the PELASS Point-in-Time Count (PiTC) Homelessness Enumeration Study, there are just shy of 50 known cases of homelessness in Prince Edward County however that number is probably closer to five times than what the data indicates. Most of these cases are people who are “provisionally accommodated”. In other words, they have a roof over their head-whether that of a friend or relative. Couch surfing or the “hidden homeless” are far more prevalent in rural areas according to Dorey, meaning the local number is almost certainly higher. The data also shows evidence of evidence of social inequality and “over representation” of Indigenous people, folks receiving Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program funding, those on seniors benefits and low income earners. Nearly seven in ten respondents are “on their own.”

Maybe these numbers aren’t shocking to some. But what could paint an even more stark picture for Prince Edward County would be a deep dive on the number young people who would normally be moving out of their childhood home but can’t due to a lack of attainable housing.

Take the homeless numbers and compound them with the above segment that, at least anecdotally, seem to be growing.

Whether it is or isn’t, we feel it’s the tip of a spear heading straight to the heart of Prince Edward County and, ultimately, begs the question of what can be done to restore balance in the affordable housing/rental market.

Eliminating “Renovictions” and other bad faith evictions including false ‘personal use’ evictions is a measure MacNaughton is attempting to move up the governmental food chain to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. MacNaughton also wants council to petition the province to extend rent control to all tenancies, including those occupied after November 2018, which are currently exempt from rent control restrictions; and to reinstate a rent increase freeze for another six months (or until the effects of the pandemic have stabilized).

Those are a couple of provincial planks that could, if enforced properly, help build a bridge between the homeless and would-be homeless. Perhaps such tools will only be a drop in the proverbial homelessness bucket.

But add in strategies for affordable and attainable housing projects, a tiny home strategy and perhaps a national measure where an escalating tax rate would make owning multiple rentals cost prohibitive to landlords and a more clear balance could be struck.

This is not to lay the entire situation at the feet of landlords, long and short term accommodation property owners. There are always going to be a need for an array of rental units and Prince Edward County’s economy now and in the future will rely on such accommodations.

But St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Reverend Lynne Donovan said it best at the COTW meeting following Dorey’s presentation and in an unfair world, her comment carried much weight. “The truth is, our world is becoming more about ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and whatever is happening in the world is happening here too.  I’m well aware of the complexity of the conversation around housing, but as long as housing is an investment, that is a problem,” said Donovan.

Unbalanced and unchecked in Prince Edward County, her observation will continue to be apt prophecy.

-Jason Parks

PICTURING OUR COMMUNITY

LOVE IS IN THE  ‘AER’ Valentine’s Day marked a special occasion for the Rotary Club of Wellington as members pledged to fund an essential piece of equipment. The Club will fund up to $60,000 for the purchase of an Automated Endoscope Reprocessor (AER) needed in the Medical Device Reprocessing Department at Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital. An AER is essential to the delivery of Endoscopy services and this vital piece of equipment disinfects each gastroscope and colonoscope between patients. This pledge is in addition to the $400,000 ‘Back the Build’ commitment by the Rotary Club of Wellington to fund the new PECMH. (Briar Boyce photo)