Several initiatives are underway to provide more shelter for Sarnia’s homeless.
They include new beds at the city’s two existing shelters, additional supports, and a new housing project for Indigenous residents.
Lambton County council has approved up to $80,000 in support and six more beds at the Good Shepherd’s Lodge.
“Two years ago we were averaging 15 people a night at the lodge, now… we’re full every night,” said Inn of the Good Shepherd director Myles Vanni, who added the lack of housing is felt everywhere.
“There’s nothing affordable.”
Lambton recently adjusted a shelter standards bylaw to allow for the new bunk beds at the Lodge on Confederation Street, Vanni said.
It’s also putting together a team from the Lodge, Ontario Works and Canadian Mental Health Association to help residents find apartments and provide rental subsidies, Vanni said.
The Lodge currently has two dorms for men with 18 beds, two more for women with eight beds, and two family dorms.
A new housing project is also in the works involving Lambton County and the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Authority, Vanni said.
The facility will be located near the Lodge and have space for 25 First Nations people, a group “disproportionately represented” in the homeless population, he said.
Last January and February, funding of almost $80,000 from the county and local health integration network provided emergency shelter for 99 homeless individuals at local motels.
Meanwhile, River City Sanctuary is also planning an expansion. The church on Mitton Street is trying to raise $300,000 to cover construction costs to add 40 new beds, said lead pastor George Esser.
The Sanctuary estimates 25 additional beds for men and 15 beds for women are needed to meet demand.
River City, which moved into the former YMCA building in 1997, has filled in the swimming pool area for the planned expansion, which includes heated floors, HVAC improvements and a women’s area the shelter does not currently provide, Esser said.
“(Homeless women) hang out all night and at 11 p.m. we have to ask them to leave. It just breaks our hearts to do that.”
The plan calls for about 100 lockers and in-house developed ‘pods’ — partitioned living areas with a bed, desk and lockable cupboard.
So far, about $60,000 has been raised, Esser said.