Government Response in Guelph, Ontario
by Amy Moffat
When COVID-19 spread around the globe in early 2020, it was not long before it was deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It was up to governments big and small to assess the risk of transmission of this novel coronavirus to the most vulnerable among us – the homeless populations. On March 23rd, 2020 the County of Wellington and all seven of its member municipalities declared emergencies in accordance with the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (1990) as a result of the global pandemic. Face coverings were mandated as required indoors in commercial businesses as of June 12th, 2020 as per the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Medical Officer of Health. The municipal governmental response in regards to protecting its homeless population began with a series of rapid decisions on how to safely administer community programs.
In the City of Guelph and County of Wellington, Ontario, Canada, a total of 124 homeless individuals were counted in February 2020 as part of the Quality-By-Name List. Not long after this tabulation, COVID-19 forced the shutdown of the three local shelters; Dwelling Place (for women), Stepping Stone (for men) and Wyndham House (for youth) on March 27th, 2020 due to concerns that social distancing could not be safely maintained in these facilities. At that time 37 people were moved to area hotels for safer lodging at the Parkview Motel and Holiday Inn Express. Staff from the shelters were moved to the hotels as well to support their constituents. The City of Guelph and Guelph Transit provided transportation to and from the hotels.
At the time of the shelter closures, services were initially funneled to the Welcome In Drop In Centre. Unfortunately, this space had to close a short time later on April 19th, 2020. The facility pivoted to open a Supported Isolation Centre on the second floor which “has capacity to care for anyone who is homeless that needs isolating due to awaiting COVID-19 screening results, or has a positive COVID-19 test. Referrals are only received through the Guelph General Hospital or the COVID-19 Assessment Centre (151 Victoria Road N.).” The facility was put together in record time to meet the unprecedented need and was a joint effort by several community organizations such as Guelph Community Health Centre, Wyndham House, Stonehenge Therapeutic Community and the Drop in Centre. This emergency plan used a space that was originally set up as the Supportive Recovery Room, which had funding up to March 2021.
Guelph City Council began holding their meetings (open to the public) via live stream to help contain the spread of COVID 19. The minutes from their June 17th 2020 meeting agenda indicate they discussed their reopening plans and social recovery plans. A section of the plan reads: “The City has been selected as a recipient for the COVID-19 Community Response Fund generously supported by Canadian Medical Association Foundation (CMAF). As a result, the community will receive $8,500 to provide COVID-19 related support to vulnerable populations—particularly those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. As the Consolidated Municipal Services Manager for Guelph, the County of Wellington will use this funding to continue to support isolation shelters and the use of hotels to ensure physical distancing.”
It was these funds and the co-operation of numerous local agencies that brought into fruition the next phase of their plans to improve the accommodations for the homeless and move from temporary pandemic provisions to a more permanent solution. The Mayor of Guelph Cam Guthrie had created a Task Force on Homelessness, Addictions and Community Safety in February 2019.
One if their objectives is to end homelessness in the region by the year 2023. In keeping with Guelph-Wellington’s goal of eliminating homelessness in our city by the year 2023, the Loyola House Supportive Temporary Accommodation Pilot (LHSTAP) located at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre was announced in early October 2020. David Anderson, Social Services Committee Chair for the County of Wellington explained: “Our community’s collaborative response to the COVID-19 pandemic gave us an opportunity to explore a new approach to emergency shelter services. With emergency shelter standards already being re-drafted, this new approach has reinforced our need to shift to a model with a strong housing focus that supports multi-sector service delivery.” The Loyola House building had vastly more space, on far more land, making social distancing and other health measures far easier to implement. The staff and support team at the centre hope to secure more permanent housing opportunities for those using their services.
Many innovative minds at all levels of municipal government and at local agencies came together as evidenced by a presentation at the City Council meeting of October 26th, 2020. A Supportive and Affordable Housing Update included a presentation with delegates from Public Services, the Welcome In Drop In Centre, Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination, Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington and Habitat for Humanity Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph. They were working to secure provincial funds to implement and enhance their programs at Loyola House and beyond.
The pandemic highlighted a lack of adequate space in current City of Guelph facilities working to shelter the homeless population. The subsequent rapid decisions by a coalition of community members and city council led to an expansive and spacious building becoming home to a new pilot program and will hopefully be just the start of more comprehensive and permanent solutions for the health and well being of all members of our neighbourhood.
Loyola House at Jesuit Ignatius Centre in Guelph. New Home of Loyola House Supportive Temporary Accommodation Pilot
Guelph City Hall where councillors meet and implement municipal policies
County of Wellington Court House and Administration Services in Guelph
Welcome In Drop In Centre, Guelph - a space for homeless shelter and assistance that was temporarily shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic