Delegates representing housing advocacy organization A Better Tent City (ABTC) went to Region of Waterloo (ROW) council on Wednesday, November 7, asking for urgent help. The group was appealing a decision by the ROW housing department that determined ABTC did not fit the criteria for ROW funding.
ABTC has not yet received an explanation as to why it did not meet the criteria, and department officials have agreed to meet with the members of ABTC to explain later this month. Without additional and prompt financial support, the delegates warned, the project will not be able to continue.
The delegation included Jeff Willmer, Laura Hamilton, Marion Thomson Howell and Father Toby Collins. ABTC had asked for $236,000 under ROW housing provider funding scheme. This money would provide for dedicated staff to actively support residents to further stabilize their lives and obtain permanent housing.
Laura Hamilton described how the group began as a crisis response to unsafe living conditions and how it transitioned from an illegal unsanctioned encampment to a registered charity with community partners and over 100 volunteers. Despite these achievements, Marion Thomson Howell noted how demand is increasing, “One year ago today, we had approximately 65 people who came around on a regular basis looking for support. As of Thursday of last week, we had 96 and that number grows daily.”
When ROW Chair Karen Redman asked about volunteers, Hamilton described typical tasks and the increasing demands on volunteers. She also described how much of the success of ABTC comes down to one woman, Nadine Greene, and why that is problematic because it leads burnout for the volunteer and excessive dependence on one person, which is not good for the organization in the long run.
Councillor Berry Vrbanovic asked, beyond finances, what the main challenges for the group are and what supports are needed to confront these challenges. Father Collins answered by characterizing the struggles of the people who rely on ABTC are facing. He noted the people they take in are extremely unstable and they need to be stable before they can start to move beyond their struggles.
Councillors Rob Deutschmann and Chantal Huinink tried to understand why ABTC didn’t meet the Region’s criteria while Councillor Colleen James asked how they are funded, if there is any government support, and more about the request for additional staff. Father Collins explained the organization’s revenue streams, the financial short fall, and need for staff.
Council noted the excellent work ABTC is doing, but, and while they understood why the group had made the request, some councillors were unsure how to interpret the performance measures. Councillor Craig asked about turnover – or how many people move on into permanent housing — on average per year. Thomson Howell, Hamilton and Father Collins reiterated their approach, highlighting that they don’t have dedicated staff to help people move on to other housing, and that was why they had come to council.
Councillor Jan Ligget returned to the turnover number and expressed concern over what seemed like a low performance indicator. She asked the group to clarify how they will improve their scores. Delegates explained how they can increase transitions with the additional staff and when waiting lists for affordable housing are reduced.
No motions were put in place regarding A Better Tent City. The next Community and Health Services meeting on December 6.
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