Transforming Homelessness Prevention in Simcoe

Innovation in Human Services Integration – Transforming the System of Homelessness Prevention Services and Supports in Simcoe County

By Wendy Hembruff

January 2023

OMSSA is featuring several of our 2022 Local Municipal Champion award recipients and their work in the Knowledge Exchange Blog. Please read the entry from the County of Simcoe below. 

Maximizing Systems Collaboration 

To effectively manage needs within the homeless shelter system during the COVID-19 Pandemic and enable early identification of issues, the County of Simcoe, as Service Manager for the system of homelessness prevention services and supports, rapidly initiated weekly meetings with emergency homeless shelter providers and a range of stakeholders and funded system partners.

Integrating public health, mental health, addictions, housing services and paramedic services in weekly meetings and on site in regular and temporary motel based shelter settings, established new relationships and strengthened existing relationships across systems to improve access to critical services and supports to homeless individuals and families.

Increased Access to Critical Health Care through Community Paramedicine

County of Simcoe Paramedicine Services was deployed on site at regular and temporary motel based shelter settings to address health needs of shelter participants and mitigate impacts to other health care settings including hospitals.

The success of this model resulted in an opportunity for County of Simcoe Paramedic Services successfully acquiring funding for the continuation of on site services within the shelter system to support the health needs of the vulnerable, at risk homeless population. The Public Access Defibrillator program supported the acquisition and instillation of defibrillator machines and training for staff in all shelter locations. 

Collaboration and Support at All Levels

Internal departments, with great support from County Council, assisted with logistics, delivery and acquisition of personal protective equipment for shelter providers, sourcing temporary housing options as well as permanent housing possibilities for the future. Community members, businesses, faith communities, member municipalities and local organizations contributed to the advancement of homelessness system supports through donations and delivery of meals, personal care items and clothing.

Diversion, Connection to Necessary Resources and Housing 

Increased inflows to homelessness originating from discharges from institutional settings including correctional centres and hospital settings presented an opportunity to fund a project specific to coordinating discharge planning from institutional settings where individuals scheduled for discharge into homeless shelter settings were identified and needs were assessed prior to discharge to ensure appropriate services and supports were considered.

Recognizing the challenges within a limited affordable housing market, the County of Simcoe worked with the regional funded housing services provider to develop a housing stock and landlord campaign to build upon opportunities to increase the supply in the private affordable rental market.  

With the support of County of Simcoe Council and a significant contribution from the provincial government, the County of Simcoe maximized an opportunity through the Social Services Relief Fund Phase 4 for a capital acquisition to develop supportive housing. A new 14-room supportive housing program is scheduled to open in early 2023.

Innovation in Human Services Integration

To enhance and complement the work of funded homeless shelter services leading up to the closure of temporary motel shelter models, the County of Simcoe established a partnership between the Community Services Department and the Ontario Works Department to reposition internal staffing resources to provide on-site intensive case management supports in regular and temporary motel shelter settings. This model resulted in over 76% of participants moving from the final temporary motel shelter settings being connected to a range of supports:

  • Reunification with family
  • Repatriation to home communities where available supports existed
  • Acquiring permanent housing
  • Access to beds in regular shelter settings

With the number of individuals requiring access to shelter beds outnumbering available beds within the shelter system, the County of Simcoe worked with funded shelter providers to maximize available space within regular shelter settings. Administrative spaces were re-purposed for use as sleeping areas, bunk beds were purchased to increase the number of available beds and shelter operators were supported through providing administrative space within a County of Simcoe Social Services office. Recognizing the increased risk to homeless women and gender diverse individuals particularly related to increased risk of violence and human trafficking, the County of Simcoe repurposed a recently vacated Simcoe County Housing Corporation duplex and partnered with a local shelter provider to establish a temporary overnight shelter for up to 10 individuals. 

The County of Simcoe identified and accelerated opportunities for transformational human services integration practices through pandemic driven interventions. A partnership between Community Services and Ontario Works combines service system management with direct Ontario Works service delivery in shelter settings to connect homeless individuals and families to a range of services and supports including financial benefits to improve life stability. This integrated approach fosters improved outcomes and contributes to further informing service system management through early identification of successful outcomes driven strategies.  

Next Steps – System Transformation and the Journey toward Housing

With the support of County of Simcoe Council, a recent acquisition of a modular structure will temporarily increase the number of emergency homeless shelter beds in the system by 50, from 225 to 275 over the critical winter months. Future opportunities for this capital asset to increase supportive housing will be examined and brought forward for Council consideration.

Examining post-pandemic system needs, the County of Simcoe has embarked on a review of the funded system of homelessness prevention services and supports to identify needs and action further opportunities for system transformation to improve outcomes for homeless individuals and families. Recommendations will be brought forward to Council in early 2023.

About the Author

Wendy Hembruff is the Director of Community Programs at the County of Simcoe. Wendy leads a passionate team and a portfolio that includes homelessness prevention services and supports, poverty reduction, research and data analysis as well as the Local Immigration Partnership. 

Since joining the County in 2010, Wendy has held a number of positions in the Social and Community Services Division, including leadership roles in the Ontario Works Program. Wendy’s commitment to serving at-risk populations, along with her experience in the municipal sector have played an integral role in the development of several initiatives, including a successful job specific skills training program supporting Ontario Works participants to prepare for employment opportunities in high demand sectors, establishing an integrated services hub to increase service access points for clients, realizing a human services integration opportunity to align homelessness service system management with direct delivery of services and supports through a system navigation approach and applying innovation to address the need for increased shelter beds upon the closure of the pandemic response of temporary motel shelter models.

Wendy’s strengths in relationship building and community engagement have allowed her to provide outstanding services to the residents of Simcoe County and are crucial elements in system transformation.

Blog categories: Housing, Homelessness, Community Services, Ontario Works, Local Municipal Champion, County of Simcoe