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Experts say homelessness in Waterloo region could triple by 2028

According to a new report, if the region doesn't act to address homelessness in a meaningful way, the number of those living on the street will triple in the next five years
Region installs fence surrounding the encampment at 150 Main St. in Cambridge

According to a scathing report presented to regional councillors Tuesday, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness could be tripled by 2028 if the unhoused remain unsupported. 

In recent weeks, advocates for the unhoused have criticized the region for closing the encampment at 150 Main St. in Cambridge and ending the motel program that gave dozens of people an alternative place to stay instead of sleeping on the streets. 

A report compiled by the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region, in conjunction with regional staff, found that if there is not a drastic change in the way they support the unhoused, the number of those living on the streets is likely to triple over the next five years. 

The over 100-page report shows that since 2020, chronic homelessness has increased by 28 per cent year over year, going from 245 individuals to 573. 

Peter Phillips, regional project manager for the plan to end chronic homelessness, says the reality of more and more people losing their homes and ending up on the streets is becoming more obvious to the broader community. 

"This has been challenging to respond to by the housing stability system partners and by regional and local rea municipalities," said Phillips. 

He adds that through their work they have found that the community is compassionately concerned about those who are living without housing and express a desire to see their local governments take leadership and end the crisis in a humane and dignified approach. 

The report focused on lived experiences from those living in encampments, advocates for the precariously housed and general members of the community. 

The region passed the Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in 2022 and added an open shelter concept, around 50 temporary emergency beds, enhancing home-based supports and compiling real ways to tackle the growing crisis of homelessness. 

Phillips adds that this is a way for the system to see itself and bring decision makers and those affected by the decision face to face to share, learn and build trust. 

Executive director of the Social Development Centre, Aleksandra Petrovic, told councillors that real change would be identifying and dressing the root causes of chronic homelessness. 

“People need to regain control over their lives and be supported to regain freedom of choice and self-determination,” Petrovic said.

She gave examples of regional actions that go against their plan to end chronic homelessness like, shutting down encampments and splitting up communities; such as 150 Main St. 

Regional councillor for Cambridge Doug Craig commended staff and those who worked on the report saying it paints a dark picture of the reality of the situation. 

"On the other hand there is almost a hopelessness that runs through the report, because of the overwhelming needs of the community," said Craig. "This regional council can't solve it," 

Craig calls on local representatives of the provincial and federal government to come to these meetings and listen to the community and deliver what we need to solve this issue. 

"With regards to our federal and provincial representatives, they need to be here, they need to be working with us and frankly in my opinion need to be doing more," said Craig. 

"In terms of the finances that are necessary and the wrap around services that everyone talks about, that are nice to talk about, but really in quantity don't exist."

Phillips agrees that all levels of government need to step up and take their responsibility seriously, the main point of the report is to find the cracks in the system and address them.

"We will be coming back with a plan, it will be multi-year because of the magnitude of what will need to be done over the years," he added. 

More concrete recommendations will be returning to council in November to be considered during the 2024 budget talks. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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