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Council OKs donation-matching program to address homelessness

Community contributions up to $500,000 for Home For Good campaign to to be matched by city dollars
20160201 Guelph City Hall Sign KA
Guelph City Hall file photo. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

City council is looking to move the needle on addressing homelessness in the city, agreeing to launch a community donation-matching program to assist supportive housing projects as well as calling on other levels of government to act on the “urgent crisis” playing out predominantly in the downtown core.

“I really believe we have an opportunity to rally the community,” Mayor Cam Guthrie said of the donation-matching initiative – an idea he brought forward but was officially put on the floor by Coun. Rodrigo Goller. “This is a unique opportunity for us to do something that is not normal.”

The donation-matching effort will see up to $500,000 pulled from the city’s supportive and affordable housing reserve fund in support of the Home For Good campaign being headed by United Way of Guelph Wellington Dufferin and Guelph Community Fund. That effort aims to collect $5 million to provide the final funding needed for three fully-approved projects – the Grace Gardens on Woolwich Street, Kindle Community’s initiative on Willow Road and Wyndham House's plan on Bellevue Street.

“Our community has shifted from managing homelessness to ending it,” commented Dominica McPherson, director of the Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination. “Some dominoes have fallen but we see there’s more to go.”

Councillors June Hofland, Phil Allt and Leanne Caron voted against the donation-matching plan, citing concerns with the process being followed, though they each noted their support for the creation of supportive housing projects and ending homelessness.

“We’re politicizing a very important issue in our community … almost playing favourites,” Hofland said, noting there could be other projects that would benefit from such funding but aren’t being considered in the motion. 

“This is entirely about process,” Caron added, pointing out this sort of funding request would typically be dealt with through the budget process which includes a public consultation component and allows for proponents of other projects to make their case to council as well.

Coun. Bob Bell lambasted his colleagues who voiced opposition to the funding plan because the process falls outside the usual.

“If you don’t want to vote for something, pull the process card,” he said of the tactic, prompting Hofland to insist he was being unfair and request a retraction, to which Bell responded “absolutely not.”

Caron stated the process debate could have been avoided had Guthrie circulated his motion before noon the Friday before a council meeting, which left little time to gather public input or ask questions of staff.

Hofland, Caron and Allt voted in favour of referring the donation-matching concept to the 2023 budget process, which is expected to be completed in late January, but the motion failed 10-3

During Monday’s meeting, council also unanimously approved a series of motions that include endorsing the Ontario Big City Mayors recent call for "an emergency meeting with the province to address the chronic homelessness, mental health, safety, and addictions crisis" as well as advocating for the province to immediately raise Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program rates above the poverty line.

Council went on to request the County of Wellington provide quarterly updates on how social services are being provided on the city’s behalf, including performance reporting and key performance indicators, along with asking county council to call an “emergency meeting to hear from and respond to community social service providers with respect to urgent needs related to homelessness, mental health and addiction issues.”

To note, just such a meeting is scheduled for this Thursday afternoon.

Council also asked for county officials to work alongside city staff and other stakeholders to identify any gaps in the existing shelter system “with the goal of 24 hour shelter coverage” and report back during August with a plan to achieve around the clock coverage. 

Council further endorsed the creation of a new subcommittee of the Mayor’s Taskforce on Homelessness and Community Safety, to be known as the Strategic Advisory Group on Downtown Issues, though Guthrie noted the group would be formed even without council’s approval, it just wouldn’t include a city staff member in discussions.

Lastly, council agreed to provide that new subcommittee with $50,000 from the operational contingency reserve the  in order to fund a third outreach worker who is business owners by responding to situations that do not require the help of police.

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Richard Vivian

About the Author: Richard Vivian

Richard Vivian is an award-winning journalist and longtime Guelph resident. He joined the GuelphToday team as assistant editor in 2020, largely covering municipal matters and general assignment duties
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