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  • ESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex County Council Notes for Wednesday, June 16

by Sylene Argent

SECC speaks of Leamington Homelessness Project

As part of an ongoing awareness campaign, Alissa Enns, Project Leader for the Leamington Homelessness Project, and Jeanie Diamond-Francis, Manager of Community Services for the County of Essex, spoke of the South Essex Community Council’s (SECC) Leamington Homelessness Project.

  Diamond-Francis explained that, at the leadership of Leamington Mayor, Hilda MacDonald, the Leamington Homeless Project initiative was formed to address the growing needs of individuals experiencing homelessness.

  Service providers and faith community leaders came together to discuss community needs, and strategized on how to address them, Diamond-Francis explained, adding the project was successful in obtaining a grant through the Trillium Foundation, which allowed for the hiring of a project leader for one-year to fully assess needs of the community.

  SECC is the lead agency and provides oversight for the Leamington Homelessness Project.

  During her presentation to County Council, Enns spoke about the local housing market and housing affordability, the local homelessness landscape, what causes someone to experience homelessness, and the cost-effectiveness of homelessness.

  When looking at the local housing market and rental housing affordability, 2018 data reveals that around 48 percent of renter households in Windsor-Essex are spending 30 percent of their income or more on rent.

  “This means they are living in housing that is not affordable to them, and that is nearly half of our population,” Enns said adding, households in the bottom third of renters’ income distribution are priced out of the rental market, with 10 percent of available units being affordable to them.

  She said availability of affordable housing is a key-driver in addressing homelessness. Enns added there is a lack of affordable renting in the area, particularly in the County. 2018 data shows, she added, that almost 13,000 new, affordable rental units are needed by 2028 to fill the current affordable housing gap.

  An important question to ask, when addressing homelessness, Enns said, includes what has happened to people that creates barriers for them in securing and maintaining housing.

  “This approach recognizes the root cause of homelessness is trauma, or quite simply put, people have experienced bad things and [have] varying degrees of ability to process what has happened to them,” Enns said.

  She added homelessness is often experienced when all other options have been exhausted or they are dealing with circumstances that make it difficult to maintain housing, such as evictions, the affordable housing crisis, family breakdown, domestic violence or instances of abuse, loss of employment, or coping with mental illness or addictions.

  Navigating homelessness in the County is different than experiencing it in the city, Enns said. With no shelter or emergency housing options available, those who do not have friends or family to stay with are left without a reliable place to seek shelter in the immediate area. In addition, there is a lack of transitional units for affordable housing options. She added most direct homeless services are primarily located in the city, making it difficult for individuals in the county to access help. Transportation to and from the city can be another barrier to accessing services.

  A large portion of homelessness in the county is hidden, Enns said. This could include temporarily living with others, couch surfing, or staying in a car, abandoned building, church property, or hotel.

  Data collected from those who are visibly homeless, makes up 20 percent of the homeless population, Enns said, adding there is a lack of reliable data on homelessness in the county. With a large population of the homeless population being hidden, coupled with lack of coordinated services in the county, means these individuals often do not connect with the right individuals to be counted or considered in standard data collection methods.

  The Leamington Homelessness Committee has organized an initiative for those who are experiencing housing insecurity, homelessness, or precarious housing conditions, to share their experiences through the project. This data will provide for better understanding the landscape of homelessness in Leamington, and will shed light on gaps and barriers on existing homelessness that exist.

  The data collection happened last week, with up to 50 individuals surveyed at the time of the County Council meeting. Enns will return to County Council with the results in August. The data will also be included in the Leamington Homeless Project’s resource report, which will include recommendations for made-in-Leamington solutions.

  Investing in ending chronic homelessness makes good economic sense, Enns added. The three most expensive forms of housing are hospital beds, followed by incarceration and emergency shelter. Many of those who experience long-term homelessness spend significant amounts of time within those three systems, she added.

  Investing in social housing is an affordable option, which costs, on average, less than $200 a month to house someone. People who experience prolonged homeless, use 60 percent of social service system resources, while only making up 20 percent of the population of those who are homeless.

  “If we can actually serve people earlier and better, not only can we decrease cost, but research shows that preventative measures and early intervention for homelessness are more effective in keeping people out of precarious housing conditions in the long-term,” Enns said.

  The goal is that this will lower the need for emergency services.

  Currently, there is a campaign to educate the community on local homelessness, through the Leamington Homeless Project.

  To fellow County Councillors, Mayor MacDonald said she had no idea of the level of homeless in her community, until there was outreach from individuals from the faith community. Leamington Council, she added, is determined to solve the issue. It may not be solved quickly, but it is also part of the reasoning behind acquiring the former Leamington District Secondary School property, “Because we want to make an impact and create housing that is attainable for more folks.”

  Essex County Warden, and Tecumseh Mayor, Gary McNamara, said one of the biggest reasons for outcry from his community is for attainable housing. He said it is important for community leaders to learn who is falling through the cracks.

  Deputy Mayor of Lakeshore, Tracey Bailey, wondered if there would be strategy planning to look at stronger regionalized approaches on issues, like affordable housing, short-term rentals, and regional transportation.

  Mary Birch, Director of Council and Community Services, said the City of Windsor is the service manager and the County does take part in meetings with them on a number of these issues. She said the information provided through the Leamington Homeless Project will be raised and discussions will be held on how to improve services in the county.

 

County Council provided with update on WECHC

Members of Essex County Council heard from Kirk Whittal, COO of the Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation (WECHC), who provided the current state and future needs report.

  Whittal explained that the WECHC is an independent, local housing corporation, whose Board of Directors are appointed by the City of Windsor. There are two County Council reps on the Board, LaSalle Mayor Marc Bondy and Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche, in addition to representation from Windsor City Council and from within the community.

  It has 730 buildings. It also manages around 3.7million square -feet of residential space.

  “Our vision is that we want to be recognized as a resourceful housing corporation, seeking innovative opportunities to improve our service delivery,” Whittal said, adding the mission is to provide well-maintained, safe, affordable community housing.

  WECHC runs three portfolios as one housing provider, including non-profit senior housing, non-profit family housing, and its largest program, public housing, which calculates resident rent based on thirty-percent of their income. The latter program is the only one offered in the county.

  The average age of the units in the rent geared to income program is 52-years.

  Of its units, 4223 are located in the city, and 479 are located in the county. The largest area in Essex County for WECHC is in Essex with 161 units. Leamington is the second largest area. LaSalle only has 15-units. There are other providers in the County that provide housing, Whittal added.

  He said of the existing stock, of the 4702 units, there is $167 million in unfunded capital liability, which Whittal said is a significant burden and issue in the funding process.

  Individuals can wait up to six-years for a unit, depending on what type of unit they are looking for.

  Residents, he said, do report poor building and living conditions, due to the unfunded capital maintenance. Some buildings are beyond useful life cycle, Whittal added. Extensions are possible, but require continued investment.

  WECHC has been negotiating with CMHC, using the National Housing Strategy, to look at how to keep the stock in play, and what needs to be done to address the capital liability.

  Whittal said, earlier this year, WECHC was able to tap into the National Housing Co-Investment with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Through this, $170m was approved that WECHC will be able to spend over the next eight-years to start repairing its stock. The funding will not be evenly distributed to the units, but will go a long way to do what needs to be done to improve the stock.

  “This is a game-changer,” Whittal said, adding there are accessibility and energy reduction targets associated with the funding.

  Of the funding, $90m will come from the CMHC, the City and County will cover $40m, which is the current contribution, plus an additional $40m in the years to come.

  The next step is to look to see if expansion is needed. A regeneration master plan has also been created internally, which will be submitted to the City of Windsor later in the year.

  The city and county have to look at what is needed in the communities and what can be done for improvements. In addition, discussions need to take place on what to do with assets when they are past their life cycle and how to construct new housing in the service area, separate from the current city/county agreement.


County Road 22 Alternative Design Strategies presented

David Lukezic, Project Manager of WSP Consultants, approached County Council about the ongoing County Road 22 alternative design strategies study.

  The project is a corridor planning study to define and evaluate options meeting the needs of current and future users on County Road 22, from East Puce Road to West Belle River Road, which is around 5.8km.

  Jane Mustac, Director of Infrastructure Services, noted the County and the Town of Lakeshore partnered on the project, as it was recognized that many local, original policies have evolved, since the original Environmental Assessment was completed in 2006.

  The aim of this study is to revisit the preferred design solution outlined in the 2006 Class EA and subsequent active transportation recommendation made in the 2012 CWATS Master Plan.

  Lukezic explained the corridor study aims to develop an alternative that best builds upon previously County adopted plans, such as the 2006 Environmental Study Report and the County Wide Active Transportation System in 2012.

  The study also includes a review of the internal local road network to determine options “off the corridor” that could improve the conditions on County Road 22.

  In addition to this segment of County Road 22, Oakwood Avenue, running parallel to County Road 22, was also assessed. It was noted this collector road is not currently considered fully functional at its desired level of service and classification, Lukezic said.

  The approach for the study included determining the need and purpose, determining guiding principles, identifying alternatives, consulting the community, and selecting the preferred alternative, Lukezic noted.

  There were 514 responses received through a community-wide survey, hosted from December 2020 to January 2021. The most important improvements identified by respondents include improving roadway capacity, traffic operations, and mobility. There was strong support for access management along the corridor, including closure of several side roads. The improvements should improve efficiency and increase safety along County Road 22. Improvements to pedestrians, cycling, and active transportation infrastructure, were also noted.   

  Lukezic presented several alternatives for County Council to consider. Alternative #2B is preferred, as it provides a balanced solution and accommodates active transportation. 

Alternative #2B: Right-of-Way Widening Cycling Enhancement Option would maintain an appropriate Line of Supply (LOS), accommodates pedestrians and cyclists, wide boulevards to accommodate streetscaping, but would not improve LOS, and there would be some land impact.

  A Public Information Centre was scheduled for the following day. Online comments will be collected during a 30-day period ending July 18, 2021. Follow the links at www.placespeak.com

  From there, following the 30-day period, the input will be reviewed and the preferred design solution will be refined.

  Drainage system improvements to be developed during the Detailed Design Stage.

  Mustac said the matter will come back to County Council some time in the fall, when the preferred alternative has been refined. She added signalizing in the area is being handled separately.

  In the Report to County Council on the matter, which was received later in the meeting, it notes that at its Council meeting on November 6, 2020, Lakeshore Council moved to request the County of Essex include three traffic signals in the 2021 Budget.

  The requests from Lakeshore are included the following, coupled with County recommendations on each matter:

• The addition of an advanced left turn signal to the traffic light at the County Road 22 and Renaud Line. This is warranted and will be implemented in 2021.

• The installation of a traffic light at the County Road 22 and Emery Drive intersection. This is not warranted, but accommodation is proposed in the study, following the closure of adjacent access roads to satisfy safety and operational concerns.

• The installation of a traffic light at the County Road 22 and Rourke Line intersection. This will not be progressed until a time that the traffic volumes reach a level to warrant a signal. The study identifies this location as a development driven requirement.

  Funds are included in the 2021 Infrastructure Services budget to complete the remainder of the County Road 22 Corridor Study. This study is cost shared 50/50 with the Municipality of Lakeshore, the Report to County Council noted.


Physician recruitment attracts 55 doctors, number of

doctors planning to retire is a concern

Joan Mavrinac, Physician Recruitment Officer, provided an update to County Council on Regional Physician Recruitment initiatives.

  The last time she approached County Council on the matter was in October of 2019.

  She noted COVID-related border closures halted the recruitment of US and UK citizen positions. In addition, out-of-province recruits were reluctant to make moves during the outbreak. This increased the communications with the recruits. In addition, she said, graduating Canadian physicians opted to move home to be near family and friends.

  Mavrinac explained Windsor-Essex welcomed 55 new physicians over the last 20 months. Most of these recruitments were doctors already in the queue. Of the recruits, 26 were Family Physicians; eight were Emergency Medicine Physicians; 12 specialize in internal medicine - with sub specialists in Cardiology, Endocrinology, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, and Neurology; four Pediatric Specialists - including sub specialists in Allergy and Immunology, and Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine; two surgeons (Neurosurgeon and Vascular Surgeon), one Anesthesiologist, one Diagnostic Imaging Specialist, and one Psychiatrist.

  Canada has 241 physicians per every 100,000 citizens, Mavrinac said. Ontario has 218 and Windsor-Essex has 175 for the same population size. This is down since October 2019, which was 178. The impact is due to the number of retirees.

  She explained that 20 percent of local specialist physicians are over 65-years-old and 21.2 percent of local, active family physicians are over the age of 65.

  She estimated that 100,000 Windsor-Essex residents will lose their family physician over the next five-years.

  “As you can see, there is still a significant gap, with respect to the number of physicians in the community. We need to continue to recruit,” she said, adding the region’s population is growing.

  Of the local population, 74,521 are not attached to a primary care provider.


  Look for additional County Council news in the July 1 edition of the Essex Free Press.