Cornerstone hopes a corner is being turned on a desperate need

By Cecilia Nasmith

Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre executive director Nancy Johnston hopes Cobourg council's support of two rental projects this week is a sign of turning a corner on the lack of affordable housing.

Johnston sees the need every day at Cornerstone where, for the past five years, their shelter has operated at above-100% capacity. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year (the latest for which figures are available), that figure is 127%. During that year, she reported, they were forced to turn away 100 women and 57 children, youth and dependents for lack of beds in their shelter.

For 2018-2019, she added, they expect to see similar figures.

As Johnston explained at the council meeting, women forced to take refuge at their shelter cannot leave simply because there are no affordable options. It creates a bottleneck that keeps the shelter full and unable to accommodate anyone else.

This week brought several pieces of good news for the agency, including the expansion of their HomeShare program from a pilot project to a county-wide initiative. The idea behind this one is to match up older independent women living on their own who have living space to spare with younger women who require a place to live, in hopes of a congenial arrangement that involves companionship, a sharing of responsibilities and an offsetting of costs as well as shelter.

At council, she was delighted to see support in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of concessions for two rental developments by Trinity Housing Corporation and the Balder Corporation's Cobourg Accessible Energy Efficient Downtown Rentals project. Between them, they will offer 102 rental units, of which 26 will be affordable ones.

Having to turn away vulnerable people who need your service is devastating, Johnston said, forcing staff to work with people to find other options.

“We talk to a lot of people each Monday morning from 9 a.m. to noon – we have a drop-in where they can come and receive multiple levels of services and talk about family-court issues, financial issues. Shelter is a little more tricky.”

Sometimes they are able to refer these people to another shelter, such as the one in Alderville. Sometimes they need to go find shelter in another community, and Cornerstone assists them in getting there.

“Or we explore other options they may not have thought of – is there a safe family member they can stay with for a time until we can bring them in,” Johnston said.

“It's an unfortunate situation we are in – we are turning people away because we simply don't have any beds because women are having to stay way too long because there isn't affordable housing.

“It's not unheard-of for a woman to stay three, four, five months or beyond because there's not enough affordable housing.”

Council's positive response was wonderful news, Johnston declared.

“I think we are finally getting to that understanding that we all need to be working together in this. Cornerstone can't have all the answers, and I don't. The province doesn't, or municipalities.

“There needs to be increased housing stock. Whether private sector or not-for-profit – it's not an either-or for me.”