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Site chosen for Windsor's homelessness and housing hub

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A permanent location has been selected for the City of Windsor's Homelessness and Housing Help Hub (H4).

The city announced Tuesday it has approved 700 Wellington Ave. as H4's permanent home.

It has currently been operating out of the former Water World building since April 2020 as a way of responding to homelessness during the pandemic.

According to the city, administration initially attempted to negotiate the purchase of this site "following council direction," but was unsuccessful.

In order to acquire the land, city administration will instead pursue expropriation.

"After almost a year and a half of negotiations, looking at over 200 properties for expressions of interest, we're super excited about this announcement for our community," said Windsor's Commissioner of Human and Health Services Andrew Daher.

According to Daher, the seven-acre site provides enough space to develop at least 64 one-bedroom "permanent supportive housing units," as well as common space for programming, services, and other amenities.

The land spans 310,000 square feet, but the actual hub would occupy between 100,000 and 120,000 square feet of the space.

"We know we need more affordable housing in our community, so that could be an option. We can look at other partners to co-locating part, or all, of their services around the hub," said Daher.

He added the Wellington location meets many of the key criteria, which were identified through a consultant’s report on where the H4 should permanently operate.

"We've checked off many of the boxes," said Daher. "It's within a two-kilometre radius of the downtown core, on a major transit corridor, and walkable to most of our core services."

"Also, we could redevelop that area economically because, historically, that piece of property has been undeveloped," he said.

Daher estimates the new H4 could be up and running by 2028 — but "everything hinges on the expropriation timeline."

A major reason for seeking out such a large piece of land, Daher explained, is so various community partners, united in their aim to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness, can be nearby and work together effectively.

The executive director for the Downtown Mission said she has been delaying plans to move out of their current space on Ouellette Avenue until the city could select a permanent location for the H4.

"We would love to move close to that location as soon as we possibly can," said Rukshini Ponniah-Goulin. "We didn't want to waste time, money, and effort moving to a new location, just in case it was not going to be where the new H4 was going to be."

Ponniah-Goulin added the emergency shelter has not signed any agreements with the City of Windsor to relocate the Downtown Mission as of right now.

But she's excited for the day when the people she sees on a day-to-day basis at the Downtown Mission can access services all on one property.

"It's definitely a challenge that people have expressed — and if not expressed, you can see it. It's a struggle because everyone can't necessarily walk from one location to another," said Ponniah-Goulin. "So if you're having a location for a service delivery hub like this, it will hopefully expedite their ability to access those services."

The H4 at the former Water World building offers connections to community support agencies, basic needs such as food and water, access to restrooms and quiet spaces, and basic medical care.

Through an initiative called Shelter Health, doctors and nurse practitioners provide one-on-one care to individuals using shelters across the city — including the H4.

One of the partners behind that initiative is the Windsor-Essex branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

"We're excited about the move. We look forward to hearing more about the timeline and what that means for our partnership," said local CMHA President Nicole Sbrocca.

The selection of a permanent location, Sbrocca added, is a "step in the right direction" toward meeting the needs of patients and clients where they are.

"We can't expect them to come to our CMHA office or to only be accessing services at emergency departments when things get to that critical point," she said.

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