Downtown drop-in and shelter hours will soon run around the clock, at different facilities.
During its Tuesday evening meeting, city council unanimously agreed to fund an additional four hours of drop-in service at Royal City Mission (RCM), which comes with a $250,850 price tag.
“This is urgent. It is certainly something that is addressing a need,” said Coun. Phil Allt, who moved the motion of support. “This, to me, is one more part of the puzzle that sustains and hopefully improves the vitality of Downtown Guelph for all perpetuity.”
In a report to council ahead of the meeting, city staff called for the funding to be approved.
As a result, drop-in services at the Quebec Street facility will begin at 8 a.m. rather than noon and continue to 7:30 p.m.
Stepping Stone operates an emergency shelter with 27 beds out of its Gordon Street facility between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
“Our numbers have gone out of control,” Pastor Kevin Coghill of RCM told council, noting that’s driven by a combination of increased need and fewer agencies providing drop-in services. “We would have definitely had to cut back our hours without this.”
The increase in drop-in hours is set to begin early next year, though a specific date isn’t known at this time.
Extension of hours follows a July motion from city council directing city staff to work with the County of Wellington social services committee and other stakeholders to identify gaps in the existing shelter system, with the goal of 24-hour shelter coverage.
“A gap was identified in the current provision of daytime shelter services in the downtown core as Royal City Mission is only open from 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm, leaving a four-hour gap in the morning,” the staff report explains.
“This is a band-aid solution, 100 per cent,” commented Mayor Cam Guthrie. “We have some major issues that we need to solve in the absence of the province not helping to solve.”
This one-time funding is to come from the tax rate operating contingency reserve, which caused some pause among council members.
“I don’t want us to be using reserves to address the problem in front of us,” said Coun. Phil Allt – comments echoed by several others around the horseshoe.
“I think we all realize this problem isn’t going to be lessened in the next year,” added Coun. Leanne Caron, who stressed issues regarding mental health, addiction and food insecurity aren’t limited to the downtown – rather that’s where people tend to go because that’s where services are provided. “It is a city-wide problem.”
Deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush noted this is one-time funding. Any future dollars will need to flow through a Community Benefit Agreement with RCM.
The idea of extended drop-in hours was endorsed by the Strategic Advisory Group of Downtown Issues, a subcommittee of the Mayor’s Taskforce on Homelessness and Community Safety, during its Nov. 28 meeting.
“Business owners are deeply impacted by our community downtown who are suffering in the streets,” said Coun. Carly Klassen. “The important part is to continue the conversation into that medium and long-term.”
A street outreach worker has been contracted to provide services at RCM until February, notes a county report attached to the Dec. 13 city council agenda. That position is funded out of the county’s existing housing division budget.
Coun. Cathy Downer was absent from Tuesday's meeting.