- by Joan Chamney

The YMCA housing support services have always used the Housing First Principle  - that people are better able to move forward in their lives if they are first housed. Therefore, even during a pandemic when there are lots of crises happening with peoples’ housing, we continue to try to assist people to find permanent housing. ESPECIALLY in a pandemic.

Our worry early on, was that at the end of this, (whenever that may be), we didn’t want to have full motels and then have everyone compete for available housing.

We have been so appreciative of the motels and room providers who have allowed us to access rooms longer than we normally would, and to the landlords and property managers who continued to make their units available to people in need; sometimes VERY quickly so we could avoid long stays in motel/shelter.

Most of the housing we have been able to find are room rentals. Room rentals are almost affordable compared to an apartment, but not as stable, and certainly not suitable for families. A room rental averages $600 to $700/month whereas many one bedroom apartments are minimally $800 plus utilities. Houses or 3-bedroom rents are upwards towards $2,000/month. If you check local listings like Kiiji,  there are more people looking for housing than offering it.

In April, with the assistance of Safe n Sound’s volunteer phone line we assisted 62 people  in Grey County with emergency shelter and 53% of those found housing. The number attaining housing has gradually been decreasing. In July we assisted approximately 71 people with emergency shelter with only 24% finding housing.

Our services are available to support all people who are without safe housing. It is true that a large number of people who we assist with “emergency shelter” are living with unsupported mental health and/or substance abuse issues, but during Covid, we have also continued to see broken relationships, domestic violence, people in financial hardship, vulnerable youth and seniors, etc. Staff work hard to make referrals to supportive agencies who can continue to assist after our role is done.

The YMCA continues to provide other housing supports as well; applications for programs that assist financially such as applications for Grey County and Bruce County housing and other rent supplement programs, LEAP (Low income energy assistance program), OESP (Ontario electricity support program), referrals to the Community Legal Clinic, Landlord Self Help, United Way Financial literacy, Violence Against Women’s programs, Employment and Mental Health programs. These supports happen regardless of COVID-19 but, as creative as our community has been, access to some of these has been a little more complex and time consuming.

The YMCA also assists people who are having difficulties in their current housing through landlord mediation, and they provide landlord and tenant education, or coaching for those who simply need information to help them in their own housing search. On our website we provide resources for both landlords and tenants.

We provide a free space on our website for landlords to post their vacancies.

Joan Chamney is the program coordinator for community initiatives for the YMCA of Owen Sound Grey Bruce. She was responding to questions from the Owen Sound Hub about the ongoing housing crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.


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