Services board sets out to form homelessness strategy

By Jon Thompson

Although Dryden doesn’t have as much visible homelessness as other communities in Northwestern Ontario, the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB) heard poverty is one step above the street.

The KDSB’s Aug. 14 consultation sought Dryden’s input as it aims to establish a regional plan to address homelessness and under-housing.

Wednesday’s sparsely attended discussion addressed complex and multi-ministerial poverty issues that are now falling on the housing portfolio. Attendees aired concerns over what they perceived as cracks in the continuum of communication and services.

KDSB director of integrated services, Dianne Apland has been tasked with leading consultations on the plan.

“I think what we heard is as a society, we need to provide more supports to our most vulnerable people who are coming out of treatment, coming out of prison and coming out of situations where they can’t maintain their housing without help – and we have to provide that,” she said.

In January, the province extended a last-time envelope of $56,000 to the KDSB, which was committed to shelters in Sioux Lookout, Red Lake and Kenora. In 2014, funding for homelessness will be combined with all social housing, including managing the KDSB’s public housing portfolio along with those of other non-profit housing groups.

The province is simultaneously conducting a reboot of its Poverty Reduction Strategy, in which it aims to reduce the number of Ontarians living in poverty by 25 per cent over the next five years and to halve the 13.1 per cent poverty rate by 2023.

“Helping people get back on their feet starts with giving them a place to live,” said Barry Baltessen, the chair of the KDSB. “What we have is a national problem. It’s going to require all three levels of government to work together to fund any solutions that come up but we’ve been given the opportunity as a provider in this area to come up with a plan we can present to the provincial government that’s going to show them the magnitude of the issue in our district but it’s also going to be useful for us as we head into a strategic planning session in terms of figuring out what we have to do and how we can do that better, both in the housing field and in the social services field.”

Balthesson sees excess social housing capacity in some communities such as Ear Falls and Minaki while need exists others like Dryden, Sioux Lookout and Kenora.

Kenora-Rainy River Family Services family service supervisor, Debbie Michaud attended the session. The social assistance Michaud personally received 25 years ago as a teenager escaping a home atmosphere of addiction was more than Ontario Works recipients receive today, in real dollars. She credited the standard of living the program provided for giving her a safe space to escape the cycle of poverty, alleging those living on social assistance today have no such opportunity.

“I’m seeing extreme poverty contributing to child protection issues, homelessness being one of those issues,” she said. “If you have somebody who is living in poverty, they’re at risk of being homeless, their relationships suffer, you get domestic violence issues, addiction issues transpire, issues of justice end up coming into play. It’s all related.”

Both the KDSB and the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy have posted online surveys for further public feedback. A final plan in both cases is expected within the year.

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