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New provincial funding for Sarnia-Lambton’s homeless problem

Cathy Dobson The fight against homelessness in Sarnia-Lambton received a big financial boost from the province Tuesday with an increase of more than $2 million annually.
All a Sarnia resident’s belongings are in a shopping cart.
All a Sarnia resident’s belongings in a shopping cart. (Glenn Ogilvie photo)

Cathy Dobson 

The fight against homelessness in Sarnia-Lambton received a big financial boost from the province Tuesday with an increase of more than $2 million annually.

“This is very good news,” said Valerie Colasanti, general manager of Lambton County Social Services.

Valerie Colasanti

“We will be able to provide more support to keep people in their homes and we’ll be able to do more long term planning,” she said.

The announcement was issued by Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey’s office and said the $2,045,100 increase represents a 57 per cent hike over the previous year’s funding.

Homelessness prevention initiatives in Lambton County will now receive $5,615,600 annually to help those at risk of losing their homes and those who need emergency shelter.

Homelessness has escalated in Sarnia-Lambton – as it has across the entire province – since the pandemic began in 2020.

Current estimates suggest there are 200 – 250 without stable housing in Lambton County. Anywhere from 10 – 50 are sleeping rough.

A new emergency shelter at the former Laurel Lea-St. Matthews’ Church in Sarnia opened in March and has about 20 people sleeping there on a regular basis. That’s in addition to long-established shelters at River City Vineyard church and The Good Shepherd’s Lodge.

The former Laurel Lea-St Matthews’s Church, Sarnia. (Google Images)

Colasanti said the new money isn’t for capital projects or new housing. Instead, it will be spent on initiatives such as helping those who live in shelters to move into permanent homes. It could help pay for mental health and harm reduction supports to keep precariously housed individuals in their homes, and it could provide rent supplements to make rent more affordable.

“In recent years, we’ve received very minor increases from the province for homelessness prevention,” said Colasanti. “This really is a huge increase.”

Bob Bailey

MPP Bailey said the new funding is extremely important to the community. “It will help in the effort to ensure everyone has a safe place to call home,” he said.

“The Ontario government continues to take the necessary steps to address the growing challenge of homelessness in Lambton County and across the province.”

The additional funding, announced in the 2023 budget, represents a 40 per cent increase in government funding for supportive housing and homelessness prevention services province-wide.

In total, the Ontario government is investing an additional $190.5 million annually in homelessness prevention and another $11.5 million in Indigenous supportive housing programs.

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Last month, The Journal published “Stories from the Street,” a five-part series sharing the stories of some of the men and women experiencing homelessness in Sarnia, and what’s being done to help. The series can be found here:

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