By Mike Anderson

On March 5, Town Council unanimously passed a resolution to address housing and homelessness in Georgina.

It followed a three-hour special council session, which heard presentations from York Region, United Way of Greater Toronto, and Northern South Simcoe OHT, as well as non-profit organizations Inn from the Cold, Blue Door, and the Salvation Army.

While it’s difficult to determine the scope of the homelessness problem in Georgina, according to York Region’s presentation, as of January 2024, 33 people on the By Name List—a real-time list of known people experiencing homelessness—reported they lived in Georgina before they became homeless. 

York Region outreach workers also report visiting 37 known encampment locations in Georgina in 2023, finding between 1 and 5 people at 23 locations. 

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In addition, 93 households in Georgina accessed homeless prevention programs, more than eight per cent of the total for York Region (1,100 households).

While the council resolution stressed the need to partner with York Region, it does propose several new initiatives to deal with homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. 

For instance, it requests that York Region permanently fund a seasonal shelter in Georgina, which would operate seven days a week and include daytime drop-in hours. 

Currently, the overnight seasonal shelter, located at the Maple Hill Baptist Church in Keswick, operates only four nights a week, Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.

Another significant step is providing dedicated annual funding for the Georgina Community Food Pantry (GCFP), which has seen unprecedented demand for its services in recent months.

Town staff will bring forward a business case for $25,000 per year for GCFP, which will be considered during the 2025 budget deliberation process.

Support for the Good Food Collective (GFC) and its community lunches may also be forthcoming, as staff were directed to bring forward a report in Q2 of 2024 that outlines funding details or in-kind contributions for the remainder of 2024.

While the resolution does not explicitly commit to building tiny homes, the Town will consult with the United Way of Greater Toronto (UWGT) and others on partnership opportunities to create deeply affordable housing units.

There is also a commitment to continue reviewing Town-owned lands that could be set aside to develop purpose-built rental and deeply affordable units.

The resolution also directs staff to negotiate a “partnership framework” with developers, like Treasure Hill, to build multi-unit rental housing and/or smaller entry-level private ownership units, like studio or junior one-bedroom condominiums.

And it calls on the Town to work with developers to introduce finished or roughed-in accessory apartment units that could be added to new housing builds and to explore possible incentives, including financial incentives, that would encourage developers to build more affordable housing units.

Regional Councillor Naomi Davison, who introduced a motion last September calling for a special council session on homelessness, was pleased with the resolution.

“It’s not a lower-tier municipal government responsibility. But I’m happy that we are jumping in. It’s a moral responsibility that we have,” Davison said.

Still, Davison stressed the Town should not duplicate what community groups are doing to assist people experiencing homelessness.

“As much as I appreciate the work the community organizations are doing, I want to focus on longer-term solutions,” she said.

“I want to mobilize York Region staff, getting them working here and working for those long-term solutions.”

According to Davison, York Region is already providing the necessary supports, homeless people just need to reach out and access them.

“You don’t have to sleep outside. York Region will send a cab and pick you up. They will put you up in a hotel. They will find you a safe place to sleep and something to eat and then start building that wraparound service for you,” she said

“But unless you call, they can’t help you. So keep calling until you get through, and then they will take care of you. We do have a lot of need, but there’s a lot of help too.”

While Davison acknowledges the lack of community housing in Georgina may be contributing to homelessness, she says there is no quick and easy solution.

According to York Region, the average wait time for seniors in Georgina is 6.7 years, while non-seniors must wait 10.5 years for a subsidized unit.

“The wait list for housing is extraordinarily long and untenable. 

However, York Region is looking to meet that need over the long term. We have to build a lot more housing than what we have. And that’s going to take time,” she said.

Davison was also less optimistic about tiny home communities as a possible stop-gap solution.

“We have to be quite careful about what opportunities we offer here because if you build it, they will come. And we can’t support all the homelessness issues in the province of Ontario or the country of Canada,” she said.

While Councillor Dale Genge is glad that Georgina is now firmly on York Region’s radar, she would like more immediate action taken to address homelessness in Georgina.

“There are still a lot of immediate things that need to be done that aren’t necessarily being addressed,” said Genge, who also chairs S.O.S. Georgina, a non-profit that provides sleeping bags, access to showers, and hot meals to homeless people.

“Hopefully we can get more supports up here because I don’t think we’ve had enough of the supports that we need,” she said.

“The transitional housing we’ve got up here is for families and youth. We have nothing for single adults, and there are a lot of them out there. There are definitely holes that need to be addressed.”

Genge would also like to see a bigger push for tiny homes.

“Some in the group are still looking at the tiny homes, and I think they are a really good solution,” she said.

“I think the number of people requiring resources will increase faster than we can address it. 

So we need to do more temporary things like a tiny home community.”

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