Norfolk County acknowledges the growing concerns surrounding homelessness and apparent encampments in Simcoe including the apparent encampment at Talbot Gardens. As many residents have noticed, there has been an increase in individuals setting up tents and living outdoors as the warmer weather approaches. This situation has understandably raised various concerns within the community, prompting a transparent and empathetic response.

County staff, most notably Health & Social Services Staff from Homeless Prevention Services and Public Health, have been tirelessly working to provide assistance, offer available shelter, and support those experiencing homelessness. Despite these efforts, significant challenges remain as individuals have the right to choose what types of assistance they accept. Recent court rulings may restrict the clearing of homeless encampments, citing potential violations of individual rights and freedoms. These legal matters are currently under detailed examination.

Coordinated efforts and upcoming actions

Norfolk staff, in collaboration with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and other relevant agencies, will continue to address the activities occurring around Talbot Gardens, and other areas, specifically targeting loitering and illegal activities. The aim is to balance the needs and safety of the entire community while respecting the rights of those experiencing homelessness.

Understanding the challenges of homelessness

Homelessness is a complex, multifaceted issue that is prioritized daily. Local efforts, through the use of provincial funding, include:

  • Providing emergency housing programs.
  • Providing direct in-person support to individuals experiencing homelessness and those at risk of homelessness
  • Collaborating with multiple social service agencies to coordinate service and ensure no one slips through the cracks
  • Providing support, including financial support to community partners and agencies who provide much-needed services, including the Warming Centre (operated by Church Out Serving during the colder months) and local emergency food programs
  • Providing support to affordable and transitional housing operators
  • Providing rent subsidies to individuals who are living in market rent to help close the gap between the rent that is charged and what the person can afford.
  • Eviction prevention support to individuals who are at risk of losing their home to prevent them from becoming homeless.
  • Maintaining a By Name List (BNL) of 95 individuals experiencing homelessness, most of whom are on social assistance but face chronic challenges.
  • Working with other municipalities, community agencies and provincial partners to identify and implement best practices to respond to and support those who are homeless to become housed and prevent future homelessness.

Despite comprehensive services, the lack of affordable housing remains a critical issue. There are more than 400 individuals on the household waitlist for rent-geared-to-income housing, and a vacancy rate below one per cent. Additionally, affordable housing prices and rental rates are out of reach for many in the community. 

Immediate steps and long-term solutions

Options are being actively explored to encourage individuals to accept support, including temporary housing, substance abuse and mental health supports, and potential temporary employment opportunities.

To address the illegal drug trafficking in the area, increased presence and monitoring are being considered to discourage such activities.

Additionally, planned construction work at Talbot Gardens will necessitate the relocation of the encampment for safety reasons. Close collaboration with the OPP will ensure clear communication and assistance for individuals in moving safely. 

A call for community support

Addressing homelessness requires a community-wide effort. Support from agencies, partners, advocates, and service providers is essential to enhance access to mental health, addiction services, housing, and daily living needs for those facing extreme poverty.

Norfolk remains committed to supporting individuals experiencing homelessness and working towards systemic changes to prevent homelessness in the future. Understanding and support from the community are crucial as these challenges are navigated together.