A District of Muskoka committee has declared a homelessness emergency in Muskoka.
It comes after a report to the Community and Planning Services committee, which said the number of shelter nights in Muskoka increased by 607 per cent from 2019 to 2022. That means there were 15,787 instances last year of a person needing temporary overnight shelter, up from 2,234 in 2019.
Maureen Callaghan, Muskoka’s Manager of Homelessness Prevention, said the homelessness crisis has been “particularly severe” in Muskoka.
“That’s an astronomical increase, 600 per cent, in just four years,” said Callaghan. “This means that on any given night last year, we had an average of 43 households staying in motel units. So far this year, the average has gone up to 47 households per night. And that doesn’t include people who are sleeping on couches or living in other precarious arrangements.”
With that, it also increased the bill footed by the district by 510 per cent, a cost of $721,641 last year.
According to Callaghan, there are a number of reasons for the massive spike. Aside from the number of homeless people going up, she said people are also staying homeless for longer.
Callaghan noted that despite even shared units costing an average of $800 per month, Ontario Works gives a maximum of $390 per month for shelter, something that has not increased in five years, while the Ontario Disability Support Program caps out at $522.
“We are seeing more and more people having to move from apartments that they’ve lived in sometimes for over 20 years or more,” said Callaghan. “Because the home may be up for sale, or the owner is taking it back for their own use. They are in a crisis because they are unable to find any apartments at a comparable rental rate.”
Committee chair Nancy Alcock called the statistics “truly shocking,” adding it’s been talked about often but it’s another thing to see the raw figures. Councillor Don Smith added that homelessness is not just an urban issue, citing statistics from the Anglican Diocese of Algoma that 84 per cent of homeless people have learning disabilities.
Committee passed the declaration unanimously, which will go for ratification at the next District Council. If passed, the district will call on the federal and provincial government, as well as all other municipalities in Ontario, to declare homelessness as a humanitarian crisis.
“We hope that this declaration of a homelessness emergency will be the beginning of a new commitment shared by all levels of government, to recognize housing as a fundamental human right, and to prevent, reduce, and ultimately eliminate homelessness,” said Callaghan.