Providing shelter in a time of crisis


2020 has proven challenging for every Canadian, particularly for those who were vulnerable before the pandemic hit. Recognizing this, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent leveraged its local resources and partnerships to provide relief to community members who did not have a safe space to call home.

This April, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent’s Employment and Social Services (CKESS) department transformed the John D. Bradley Convention Centre’s exhibition hall into a temporary shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. The initiative made 55 beds available for any individual in need, and services and supports for those who required help but could not stay in the shelter for any reason.

“Many factors came into play when choosing the best location,”  explains Polly Smith, Director of Employment and Social Services in an April 2020 interview with Chatham Daily News. “This location was chosen as it was large enough to accommodate up to 55 beds and allowed for all of the appropriate public health measures, like physical distancing, to be followed.”

The temporary shelter was run by municipal staff who, alongside their partners at CK Public Health and various community members, provided warm meals and support for both residents and individuals who had been set up in nearby accommodations. Dietitians from CK Public Health were also available to ensure that the provided meals were nutritious, and food safety measures were followed.

In addition to creating a safe haven for vulnerable community members during the global health crisis, CKESS drew on Ontario’s Social Services Relief Fund and its partnerships with Salvation Army, Canadian Mental Health Association, House of Sophrosyne, and CK Women’s Centre, to match each shelter resident with their own support worker. Their role was to assist individuals with locating a permanent home, finding employment, and accessing mental health and addiction supports.

“A shelter is not a home, and it has always been our goal to house people. Each year CKESS helps over 1200 people who are at risk of homelessness stay housed and over 200 homeless individuals obtain a place of their own,” added Smith, noting, “The goals of this shelter are to keep people safe from COVID-19 and connect more people to housing. Mental health and addictions services are critical to success and our partners are providing these on-site.”

Other community partners who donated their services included NeighbourLink, Free Help CK, Sandwich Guys/Street Friendz, Hope Haven, and ROCK Missions.

On average, John D. Bradley Convention Centre provided over 150 healthy meals to more than 75 people in need every day of its operations. Community Partners who offered their services include NeighbourLink, Free Help CK, Sandwich Guys/Street Friendz, Hope Haven and ROCK Missions.

The space has since been reverted to a meeting and events venue. Nevertheless, the impact it made on the lives which passed through it will continue to resonate for the city staff and partners who made it possible.

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