The Town of Goderich is sounding the alarm on a growing homelessness crisis in rural areas amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials say between eight and 11 people are sleeping rough in the town of 8,000, and another 21 people are being provided with temporary shelter.

“Since COVID, it’s now turned into a bit of a crisis and a real tragedy,” said Goderich Mayor John Grace. “For a small, rural community that has never dealt with this, it’s a big problem.”

Encampments popped up in area parks, like Maitland Woods, making the issue more visible to residents for the first time.

“Rural Ontario is not immune anymore to big-city issues,” Grace said. “We have homeless people here, we have people in dire straits and poverty — we have it.”