Whitby setting up Task Force to tackle homelessness

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Published August 3, 2023 at 12:47 pm

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“Every person deserves a roof over their head, and it is our commitment to ensure that no one goes to bed without one.”

That’s a promise made by Durham Region Chair John Henry, who is working with Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy and the Town of Whitby to create a new Whitby Homelessness Task Force that will focus on shelter, food security, and supports for vulnerable residents as Durham Region’s ‘by-name list’ of people experiencing chronic homelessness reaches 300.

Durham is the fastest-growing region in Canada, with Whitby alone expecting more than 100,000 new residents by 2051. With that growth comes additional strains on the system as the need for shelter outpaces available community supports and food security becomes a growing concern, said Roy.

“Homelessness is a growing issue in Whitby and across Durham and many individuals, seniors, and families are currently living without a roof over their heads or a secure source of food,” she said. “These are basic rights that should be available to everyone, which is why it is critical that we act now to address these community needs.”

The Town is working with partners from across Durham to create a more “integrated and accessible” system of supports to help those in need. The new Task Force has been created to focus and partner on several initiatives related to shelter, food security, and other supports for those experiencing homelessness, including:

  • A new shelter for individuals, seniors, and families experiencing homelessness – the Town is supporting the Region in converting the former Sunnycrest Nursing Home (now referred to as 1635 Dundas) into a shelter with wrap-around supports. The shelter will initially provide shelter to 45 residents, with a long-term vision of offering a co-ordinated and accessible service delivery model that supports people, creates a sense of belonging, and meets individualized needs.
  • Durham’s first family shelter – the Town has partnered with the Durham to establish the region’s first family shelter at 316 Colborne St. Renovations will take place over the fall with a planned opening in late-2023. The shelter will house up to four families with children.
  • A ‘marketplace model’ foodbank for working families and individuals – the Town is working with Feed the Need in Durham to establish a marketplace model foodbank in Whitby that would offer evening and/or weekend hours for working families and individuals. The Mayor’s Community Development Fund provided Feed the Need with a $15,000 Lead Grant to establish this model, with a location still to be determined.
  • Programming to support those experiencing homelessness in Whitby – the Town is working with the Region, Salvation Army, and Whitby Public Library to re-purpose 117 King Street (the former overnight warming program) to offer programs and support services for those experiencing homelessness.

The former Sunnycrest Nursing Home will be converted into a shelter for those experiencing homelessness

Roy said the task force and its initiatives are an example of how the Town and its partners are working to create “a broader system of supports” to help its most vulnerable residents.

“The Town is leading with care and compassion, and I’m calling on our community to do the same. Life circumstances such as family breakdown, abuse, job loss, addiction, or mental health challenges can leave someone in crisis and without a home – homelessness can happen to anyone.”

Last year more than 550 Whitby residents got help from Durham’s homelessness support and co-ordinated access system.

As a participant in the Canada-wide change effort Built for Zero Canada (BFZ-C) campaign, Durham Region is committed to ending chronic homelessness and look to house the most vulnerable individuals and families in Durham by 2025, declared Henry.

“Durham Region’s homeless population deserve community supports, housing and accessible services. We know that the need for this is outpacing what is available, which is why Durham Region and the Town of Whitby are working together to take action,” he said. “The new Whitby-based site offers supports that those experiencing homelessness need. This is just one of many systems supports across the Region that addresses the growing concerns in our communities.”

Whitby’s new Homelessness Task Force includes members from the Town of Whitby, Whitby Public Library, Durham Region Income, Employments and Homelessness Supports Division, Durham Regional Police, Salvation Army, and the Downtown Whitby’s Business Improvement Area (BIA).

More information on these initiatives, as well as supports and contacts available to help those experiencing homelessness, can be found on Whitby’s new dedicated Community Supports webpage.

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