Homeless numbers skyrocketing in Orillia - www.Houseless.org
By Sara Ross, Orillia Packet & Times
ORILLIA - Orillia’s number of identified homeless households has jumped dramatically from this time last year.
Since January, 94 Orillia and area households have been identified as homeless, said Orillia Housing Resource Centre co-ordinator Nadine Ritchie.
At the end of June 2012, there were 15 families identified as homeless.
“The fact that we’re at 94 compared to what we had last year at the same time is concerning,” Ritchie said . “It means the problem is not going away. In my mind, the problem is exacerbating.”
Ritchie noted, these numbers are of homeless families who have registered with the centre.
“There are many others that are not recorded and that’s important to know,” she said. “For the 94 that we know of, there is probably another 94 that we don’t know of.”
Increased rental prices could be adding to the number of homeless households, Ritchie said.
“Rents are going up and incomes are staying the same,” Ritchie said. “Rents are now becoming out of many people’s reach.
“It wasn’t as bad a couple of years ago, but it’s progressively getting worse.”
The average one-bedroom apartment in Orillia costs $800 to $850.
“If you were working in retail, you would be paying at least 80% of your monthly income just on rent, if not more,” Ritchie said. “It just takes one paycheque to screw things up for somebody and they’re on the street.”
The homeless numbers could also be going up because more people are using the Orillia Housing Resource Centre, Ritchie said.
Upcoming job losses at TeleTech could increase the number of homeless households. In July, TeleTech announced it was cutting 350 positions as of Sept. 20.
“It’s too soon yet for this one, but it’s a possibility,” Ritchie said.
In 2009, TeleTech let go of 472 employees.
“There was a spin-off after the last one,” Ritchie said. “We started to see a lot of clients from TeleTech (who) had hit really bad times and couldn’t pay their utility bills or couldn’t pay their rent or they had been evicted and were homeless.”
On average, more than 200 Orillia area households identify themselves as homeless each year, Ritchie said.
There were 226 identified homeless households by the end of 2012 and 225 by the end of 2011.
Although the figures take surrounding households into account, the majority of these families live in Orillia.
Ritchie said it’s difficult to determine if the mid-year numbers will result in a 2013 year-end number higher than the average.
“It’s hard to gauge,” she said. “It could stabilize for a couple of months. We could have some real low, low numbers (in the coming months).”
But Ritchie added, “It could be higher.”
There are 136 individuals among this year’s 94 homeless households. Their financial statuses vary.
“Some of them are working, some of them are on social assistance, some of them are on pensions,” Ritchie said.
To keep a roof over their heads, many of Orillia’s homeless are couch surfing, Ritchie said.
“They could be couch surfing, we could be putting them up in a motel, they could be staying at the shelters,” she said. “A lot of them are couch surfing.”
The Orillia Housing Resource Centre eventually finds homes for its clients, but they’re usually not affordable, Ritchie said.
“That’s what the problem is,” she said.
Affordable rent is determined as 30% of a family’s monthly income.
Ritchie used the example of a homeless senior living off the Canadian Pension Plan and Old Age Security.
“She’s probably getting maybe $1,200 a month,” Ritchie said.
In that case, the senior could afford to pay $360 monthly to rent a home.
In Orillia, the senior would likely find a place to rent costing $800 to $900 a month, Ritchie said.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the math,” she said. “Something is suffering. Her quality of life is suffering considerably.”
Orillia lacks affordable housing and city politicians should be identifying programs to help local homeless families, Ritchie said.
She noted some Orillia residents are trying to find affordable housing for their elderly parents who live away from Orillia, but added finding housing for local residents takes priority.
“... We have to provide programs for those people that are homeless here. Otherwise, the situation stays the same,” Ritchie said.
The City of Orillia is slowly working on its affordable-housing initiatives, said Ian Sugden, the city’s director of development services.
“We’re still trying to make efforts to work through the six different directives that council had provided,” he said.
In May 2011, then-senior city planner Jill Lewis provided 12 affordable-housing recommendations to city politicians, who directed staff to work on six initiatives.
The first was to make the zoning bylaw more affordable-housing friendly. It is being dealt with under the city’s new zoning bylaw, currently in the works with a hired consultant. The first draft will be made public in August.
The second was to hold an information session about affordable-housing funding. It will be done once the County of Simcoe approves its long-term affordable-housing strategy, Sugden said.
Cathy Kytayko, the county’s director of social housing, said the 10-year affordable-housing and homelessness prevention strategy has been sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
The province has 90 days to provide comment.
It is expected the plan will be approved and adopted by county council Jan. 1, 2014.
Joyce Ward, a member of the Orillia chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, is encouraging city politicians to work closely with the county.
“It’s clear that the county will be the group responsible for distributing federal and provincial monies,” Ward said. “It’s essential Orillia partner with them and have a strong voice at the table.”
Another initiative was to create an inventory of potential affordable-housing lands in the city.
Sugden said that has been completed, but has to be revised.
The fourth initiative was to create a flow chart and city policy to address affordable housing financial assistance requests.
This draft report is done, but work continues on the flow chart, Sugden said.
City staff have completed some background work for the fifth initiative: developing an Orillia affordable home-ownership program.
“It still remains to be tackled,” Sugden said.
The last is to establish an expedited site-plan-approval process.
“We’re in the last steps now of revising that process at the staff level,” Sugden said. “We hope to report soon on that one with some recommended changes to the process.”
Lest we not forget!