How the pandemic is affecting homelessness prevention in Peterborough

Interview with Annette Pedlar, Housing Counsellor at CCRC

CCRC’s Housing Resource Centre (HRC) serves over 1500 people and families living in Peterborough City and County each year.  Annette Pedlar is a member of the HRC team, she helps people navigate challenges related to their housing.  “Over the summer – there was a lull in service requests, it was eerily quiet – people weren’t getting disconnected, but now evictions are starting again, so we’re seeing a big increase in service requests now.” Annette says of how the pandemic has affected the housing situation for clients of HRC.

“People are struggling to navigate between CERB/EI/Ontario Works/ODSP.”  Annette explains further that as CERB ended, many people who were laid off still couldn’t find suitable work and don’t fit the EI model for supports or perhaps have a disability.  The appropriate financial support model for them may be through ODSP, but switching from something like CERB or EI to ODSP or Ontario Works isn’t the same as transitioning from CERB to EI.  The funding comes from different levels of government, each with their own process and the transition between these systems takes time.  This is leading to a higher number of service ‘gaps’ or large periods of time when a person is receiving no income while their application is being processed for the new service.  It’s a vacuum of need that in ‘pre-pandemic’ times wasn’t as pronounced.

When asked how people are managing through that Annette says, “People are turning to credit cards, payday loans and borrowing from other people to make ends meet during these periods of time when they have no income.  It’s a cycle that quickly escalates and becomes unmanageable.   We are seeing people who’ve never needed our help before in addition to people who have used our services in the past, but the problems people are experiencing are more complicated because of the pandemic.  We’re also seeing people who have very few other supports available to them”. 

The pandemic also makes accessing resources more complicated.  Even something  which previously wouldn’t have been an issue, like viewing housing listings.  “We could email housing listings to people and, if they didn’t have access to the internet or a computer, they could come in when it was convenient for them and use one of HRC’s Resource Room computers, or visit the public library and use one of theirs.” Since the pandemic started however, people don’t have the same access to these resources.  We also had printed copies available for clients, but now there are challenges with providing paper copies of listings. Now that we are offering limited in-person services, but aren’t able to offer use of a computer just yet

Many landlords now ask that people contact them via email, preferring not to give out phone numbers, which makes securing a new apartment even harder.   Annette explains, “In the past we could work around this with clients by using these public access computers, but now a person is left with very limited options.  This coupled with a lifting of eviction restrictions, and an overall increase in the price of rental units in Peterborough City and County mean more people are trying to find housing and have fewer resources to both find and secure it.” 

When asked what changes Annette has noticed since the pandemic started she spoke about how the pandemic has revealed a greater than previously realized prevalence of hidden homelessness in our community . “The number of families who are living in various stages of homelessness in Peterborough is much higher than I thought it was.  Unable to maintain their previous housing situation, and the extremely low supply of affordable units in Peterborough City and County mean families end up making very difficult choices.  Relatives or friends have enough space for children, but the parents end up couch-surfing while desperately trying to find a new rental unit that they can afford.  It’s heartbreaking, but something that wasn’t as apparent or maybe not as prevalent before the pandemic.”

This is why homelessness prevention services like those offered by HRC are so vital. 

“We try to delay or avoid eviction by working with the client and landlord to resolve the underlying problem.”  Housing Counsellors will also assist the client with their housing by providing listings, helping to email landlords and in some cases, we can help people apply for Emergency Assistance Funds to help with costs related to rent, mortgage, property tax, and utility arrears, moving costs, and last month’s rent to secure a new place.  As a last resort, when all diversion options have been exhausted, they’ll provide contact information for Social Services at the City of Peterborough for referral to a shelter.

“People come to us because they’ve exhausted all other means to keep their housing.”  Annette notes that many clients seeking service are employed but as the cost of living rises, they are unable keep up with their housing related costs. 

One of the services HRC is currently offering to those living in Peterborough City and County is a Walk-In Housing Help clinic at the 540 George St N office.  Offered Mon, Wed and Fridays from 9:30 – 11:30 and 1 – 3, clients can ring the doorbell and meet in-person with a Housing Counsellor. 

“While scheduled appointments work best, we recognize that scheduling an appointment or meeting virtually isn’t always a possibility for the people who need our services.  In-person appointments mean that we can discuss supports available, complete necessary paperwork and collect signatures all at once, providing more effective, efficient service to those who rely on us.” Annette says.

Please call 705-743-2272 ext 207, text 705-930-9301 or email hrc@ccrc-ptbo.com for more information or to book an appointment with the Housing Resource Centre.