Cornwall’s Homeless

Marie Morrell
Cornwall’s Homeless

This is an issue many Cornwall’s citizens have been talking about without finding a real answer. These pictures depict familiar scenes, a déjà vu reality. Today we provide the community with the facts and statistics on how our city has been handling the homeless situation.  To fully understand this issue, people need to understand what is the real meaning of being homeless, in the full sense of the word.

As per the dictionary’s definition, homelessness  is the condition and social category of people without a regular house or dwelling because they cannot afford or are otherwise unable to maintain regular, safe, and adequate housing, or lack, “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” It may also include people whose primary night time residence is in a homeless shelter, in an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or in a public or private place not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Many studies supports the view that “homeless people with mental illness mostly report the same reasons for loss of housing and continued homelessness as those who do not have a mental illness and that structural solutions, such as wider availability of low-cost housing and income support, would reduce the risk of homelessness among persons with mental illness, as among other vulnerable social groups. Yet homeless people with mental illness often attribute their housing problems to economic and social factors rather than to their psychiatric problems.”

In Cornwall, in plain English, the definition of homeless is quite simple. Judy Dancause, Executive Director of the Agape centre, pointed out that “In Cornwall, in most instances, people become homeless as a result of: my boy friend/girl friend/parents kicked me out, or I cannot live any longer under my parents’ roof because of the abuse or other reasons, or rarely, a case of the individual’s choice to rejects the rules, structure and materialism of our society. Dancause noted that often, the homeless are transients from other cities who get referred, from AGAPE, to Ontario Works, who in turn   makes arrangements to help them relocate to shelters near their home.

To cope with their homeless situation, some individuals commit petty theft or harass people to be put in jail to get three square meals a day and a shelter for a few days.

Since Cornwall does not have an “official” homeless shelter, many homeless become cough surfers. They move from place to place, until they are told by the people helping them, that they must seek help from Social services because those same people have no longer the financial resources to help them.

Melissa Morgan, Program Supervisor, Social Services, provided the following information.

“As mandated by the Ontario Works Act, the immediate response to someone who is homeless is through the Social Services Office.  During business hours, on an emergency basis, clients are seen the same day they contact the office.

On the first visit, clients are provided with emergency funds to secure immediate accommodation and some food for a few days. The amount is usually $100.00 and is accepted by most rooming houses and some landlords, as a deposit, with a letter of “intent to rent” presented during the “intake interview”.

This interview is scheduled within four business days of the first contact.  During this interview, the client fills out an application of assistance under the Ontario Works Act and Income Support under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act.  This application helps determine the client’s specific needs and established eligibility for ongoing assistance.  If eligible (depending on their income availability) monthly assistance is based on family size, etc. Most applicant qualify for Community- start up assistance to pay for the first and last month’s rent, the utility deposit, the purchase of household items to a maximum of $799.00(singles & couples) –  a  $1,499 for a family with children. This benefit is available once in a 24 month period.

This interview is to assess the client’s circumstances, and if appropriate, make referrals to other agencies that may assist them, e.g., Mental Health Crisis Team, Addiction Services, Children Ai’s Society, Family Counseling Centre, etc. There are some limited housing supports available through the Canadian Mental Health Association.

After hours, it exist a local protocol between Ontario Works, the Cornwall Police Service, Cornwall Community Hospital (3rd South) and the Mental Health Crisis Team for two options to provide immediate shelter. Other agencies such as the Health Unit, Church Groups/Pastors who may encounters such individuals, are aware of such arrangements  and contact Ontario Works on the first business day to start the process.

For fire victims in a potential homeless situation’s, the Fire Department goes through the Canadian Red Cross. A formal agreement with the Personal Assistance Team (PDAT) includes protocols for immediate assistance where Ontario Works is contacted and billed for the short term support.

What difference would it make if Corwall had a shelter with 10 beds fill to capacity when there is an immediate requirement for five extra more? The problem remains the same.  The current economy is at the heart of the problem when it comes to resolving this issue.

Doris MacLean, Division Manager at Social Support Services, stated that “In Cornwall, for homeless, the system works because of all the protocols currently in place and more details, on both Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program, are available on the Ministry of Community and Social Services website.

MacLean stated: “Ontario Works is a mandatory program, meaning that benefits are paid to eligible recipients. There is no waiting list as you might find for counseling services or health care.  The case load for Cornwall & SD&G is hovering around 2100 people yearly.  Every month, some clients become eligible while others go off the system due to a change in their circumstances. For instance, the client might move on to a full time job.”

We all know there are always two sides to a coin with respect to homeless and as an example I must relate this story.

While I lived and worked in Ottawa, about everyday I saw this homeless person and give him money when I could. Than one day I took him for breakfast, in a restaurant, to ask about his life. He simply told me “I don’t want to do anything with my life but eat, sleep and be rich. I told him: “You can’t be rich if you don’t do anything about it”. His reply was:” Well, I played the lotto for a couple of years then saw it was never going to happen; so I am stuck with this life.  I don’t like it but I don’t have a choice since I don’t want to work and I don’t have the balls to kill myself . So, I just beg to survive and wait that one day ill be rich”.

What could I do to help him? I can’t help him be rich; he doesn’t want to do anything; the solution, accept his status quo’s decision.  Unfortunately, he is not the only one with this frame of mind. People adapt and become comfortable, with their own misery, even are happy to go with the flow.   

Those individuals in a similar situation must want to change their life around on their own; no one can force them to take advantage of the system in place.  However, there are those developmental challenged, or with unusual circumstances that cannot help themselves and this is where the current system really works.

Bottom line, the help is there for those who truly need it.   No one knows how a homeless really feels. Each individual, each story, each emotion, each situation is different.  No one walks in someone else’s shoes and trying to do it does not cut it either, it is not the same.

No one knows what is at the end of the tunnel for these individuals, unless you have walked in the darkness of the same tunnel because, unfortunately, you are in a similar predicament.  No one else can remotely imagine, therefore, we cannot judge either.


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