WINDSOR, ONT. -- The City of Windsor will be creating a new homeless and housing hub after council unanimously supported the vision at a special meeting of council Monday.

The city has been operating a hub model at Windsor Water World during the pandemic and learned some troubling statistics about the homeless population in Windsor — 350 people have been identified as chronically homeless.

“Our goal in the community is to make homelessness as infrequent and as short term as possible,” said Jennifer Tanner, the city’s manager of housing and homelessness.

Council has delegated authority for the city to begin consultations and planning for a 60-bed emergency shelter, which would be augmented with other supports for diversion and mediation, outreach supports, healthcare and mental health practitioners as well as addiction counselling.

“This is the best way that a municipality can respond to begin to offer those wrap around services in a cost-effective way,” said Joyce Zuk, the executive director of Family Services Windsor-Essex.

Zuk said the core mantra must remain “housing first.”

“Moving someone into the housing is just one part of the puzzle. The other major component is supporting people once they receive that housing,” she said.

There may be no example of this more glaring than what’s happening right now at 245 Detroit Street.

“It’s been a nightmare. It’s been crazy the rain on Saturday nearly washed us out,” said John Bradley, one of dozens of former residents at River Place who were evicted last week when the city condemned the building. “We survived the storm, and we’re just going to keep going.”

Bradley was originally living in an encampment near the railroad cut but moved to River Place when the encampment was broken up.

Many of these residents didn’t have supports when they relocated and now that the building is shuttered, they’re living in a temporary tent encampment out front of the vacant building, once again homeless and without supports.

“Get us a place to stay,” he said. “Get us off the streets.”

The city’s commissioner of health and human services, Jelena Payne, says it will likely be a year or two before a shovel even hits the ground, a process that will include design, site selection, consultations and choosing an independent operator.

“We will expedite things as quickly as we can, but sometimes we’re at the mercy of the funding opportunities that are put before us,” said Payne.

But many delegates at Monday’s meeting pointed out there are inherent policing, parks and bylaw costs already associated with the city’s growing population of people experiencing homelessness.

“The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the investment council is being asked to make,” said Anna Angelidis, a member of the city’s housing advisory committee.

The full cost of the project is unknown, but Councillor Rino Bortolin is asking the city to send a letter to upper levels of government to advocate for more funding.

“Are we going to solve the issue of homelessness? Maybe five to 10 years down the line we may be closer to that, but this is just a step in the right direction,” he said.