CORNWALL, Ontario – The Cornwall and Area Housing Corporation are assisting roughly 1,500 individuals or families who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of homelessness with another 582 households on their wait list to receive rent geared to income housing.
Meena Mullur, the City of Cornwall’s Housing Program Supervisor, acknowledged that the issue of homelessness in the region may have gotten worse during the pandemic.
“Our most recent data on homelessness is from 2018 which may not be reflective of the current homelessness issues and factors in our area,” said Mullur in an email to Seaway News. “Due to the pandemic, we have seen huge increase in the market rent for rental properties along with house prices in our area. This poses added challenge for individuals with low to moderate income to obtain and maintain affordable housing options. In terms of temporary shelter solutions, we have had to extend the length of crisis bed stays to ensure health and safety of individuals in need during the pandemic.”
A community group has formed to help support those who are finding themselves struggling with homelessness. Unity Street Help Cornwall is a non-profit organization registered with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) that provides resources to those experiencing homelessness like food and clothing.
Tina Point of Unity said that their volunteers go out twice a week to provide support to their clients.
Point said that some of their clients struggle with opioids, while others have simply been priced out of the rental market.
“We found out that a lot of our clients have no place to go,” Point said. “We suggested that they go camp out.”
For the past few weeks, Unity Street Help has been supporting a small, but growing community of individuals who have been camping near the Seaway International Bridge on the Cornwall side of the St. Lawrence River.
Seaway News visited the campsite on Tuesday, July 13, at that time there were five individuals living there, and two dogs, but more were expected to arrive that day, with Unity Street Help providing a new tent.
Two women living at the camp, who wished to be known as Diane and Susan, explained their situation.
Susan explained that she was asked to move out by her landlord who wanted to renovate her apartment, but that when she tried to return she found that the apartment had been rented to someone else, with an increase in rent of about $150 a month from $750 to $900 a month.
Diane explained that those staying at the camp were just looking for a place to live, and that some were trying to get clean from opioids.
“We are trying to be as respectful as we can,” said Diane, who explained that they were welcoming of others coming who need a place to stay. “Just be truthful, and respectful and if you’re here to recover and be clean, don’t use here.”
In addition to tents for shelter, there was also an outdoor shower that had been setup as well as a small area where canned food donations had been kept. A small bass fish had been caught for dinner for Tuesday night.
Members of the camp hoped to move to a new more permanent site later in the summer season on Yellow Island on Akwesasne.
In the meantime, the MCA has also been working at opening a healing centre and recovery centre at the former Cornwall General Hospital in Cornwall.