North Huron homeless program expected to open by April

By April, Reverend JoAnn Todd anticipates finally being able to open the doors to Wingham’s first permanent program for its homeless residents.

“It’s not an overnight program. It’s not a flop-house. It’s not a shelter. It’s a day time program for people to connect to services. Even if it’s as simple as having a shower and doing a load of laundry,” says Todd.

The North Huron Connection Centre will be in the basement of St. Paul’s Trinity Anglican Church in Wingham. It will be operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association of Huron-Perth.

The goal is to provide a place for Wingham and area’s unhoused to have access to bathrooms, showers, and a kitchen, with a counsellor available to help connect with addiction, mental health, and/or housing supports.

Similar “Connection Centres” exist in Exeter, Listowel, and Stratford.

“I know the South Huron Connection Centre in Exeter, their laundry facilities are being used every day. Kitchen facilities are always being used. Shower facilities; folks are making use of those every day in all three of the centres, so the need is there,” says Lisa Harper, United Way Perth-Huron, community development manager.

Since Huron County started keeping track of the number of homeless residents in 2018, the numbers have risen from 100, to more than 160 in 2021, and now are estimated to be more than 200.

In Wingham, the North Huron Community Food Share has seen a dramatic increase in users too, from 3349 individuals before the pandemic in 2019, to 4218 in 2021, and 4471 in 2022, and that’s just individual visitors, family numbers have also dramatically increased.

“I think anyone with eyes can see that there are people in need right here in our town,” says Todd.

It’s going to open this spring, but fundraising for North Huron’s new Connection Centre is proving difficult.

While neighbouring Coldest Night of the Year fundraising walks, the United Way’s biggest money-making event to fund these centres, are nearing their goals, North Huron’s is lagging behind, sitting at $9,950 of their $45,000 goal, with less than a week and half until the event.

“It has been a little slow, but we do have more folks registering teams of walkers. We’re always looking for volunteers, too,” says Harper, who is organizing Wingham’s Coldest Night of the Year walk on Feb. 25, and Blyth’s on Feb. 18.

Todd says free lunches for the community’s less fortunate, put on by Wingham’s churches once a week over the past several months, have averaged between 60 and 80 hungry mouths each and every meal.

“People are more desperate. We really need these centres, and we need the professionals to help connect these folks to the services that we have,” says Todd.

More information about the North Huron Connection Centre and the upcoming Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser is available online.  

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