“Leadership and urgent action” is needed by the provincial government in response to the homelessness crisis, according to a motion put forward by Bracebridge Mayor Rick Maloney.
The motion, which was passed unanimously by council, calls on the province to “acknowledge that homelessness in Ontario is a social, economic, and health crisis,” commit to ending homelessness in Ontario, and work with organizations, including Indigenous groups, to implement an action plan.
It comes after the District of Muskoka’s Community and Planning Services committee moved to declare a homelessness emergency in Muskoka. During the meeting, Maureen Callaghan, the district’s manager of homelessness prevention, said that between 2019 and 2022, the number of shelter nights in Muskoka increased by 607 percent from 2,234 to 15,787. As well, she said the number of people needing emergency shelter jumped from 222 in 2019 to 418 in 2022.
In Callaghan’s report, she notes it cost the district $721,641 to cover those shelter nights which is a 510 percent increase from 2019.
The declaration, which still needs to be ratified by district council, calls on the federal, provincial, and all municipal governments in Ontario to declare homelessness a humanitarian crisis.
Maloney pointed out during Bracebridge’s March 22 Planning and Development committee meeting that not captured in those numbers is how many people are being supported through district programs, notably the district’s housing benefit. “Without that benefit, there would be another 50, 60 other families in the same situation,” he claimed.
“The misnomer is that Muskoka is the land with silver spoons in our mouth,” said Maloney. “The land of recreation and fun. We have that but we also have a lot of challenges for folks.”
Coun. Don Smith said that while the COVID-19 pandemic has likely played a role in the housing crisis growing, it isn’t the cause. “There is no indication that trend is going to move downward,” he added.
“We do need to do something,” he said.
The motion will be sent to all Muskoka municipalities, the chiefs of the Wahta Mohawks and Moose Deer Point First Nations, as well as a handful of provincial officials. Deputy Mayor Brenda Rhodes suggested it be sent to politicians at the federal level, too, along with officials on both sides of the aisle federally and provincially.