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Region’s homeless shelters to receive major boost

By Chris Marchand

With funding more than doubled to the region’s three homeless shelters, Kenora District Services Board CAO Henry Wall says shelter operators can focus on helping their clients rather than fundraising to keep the lights on.

“There’s been a lot of stress up until a few weeks ago,” said Wall.

Dwindling resources have stretched shelters in Kenora and Red Lake to their breaking point. Red Lake Area Emergency Shelter was set to close Sept. 30. Kenora’s emergency shelter has been kept alive the past few months through a partnership between the Ne-Chee Friendship Centre and the Knox United Church. It has since been hosted in the basement of the Northwestern Health Unit.

In 2015 over 1,200 individuals spent a night at one of the Kenora District’s three shelters. The Sioux Lookout, Kenora and Red Lake facilities shared an annual budget of around $750,000, which included homelessness prevention programming. Over the next two years Wall says their funding will go up an additional $1.3 million.

“Twelve hundred folks — in a district with a population of 60,000-70,000 — is huge,” said Wall. “You can only take (away) resources so much before things just start to wear out. The amount of volunteers who are committed in all three communities is significant, but that will only get you so far. If you go year-to-year without even knowing if the lights will be on tomorrow, that’s a tough spot to be in.”

Walls says the significant increase offers them a chance to reflect on how to operate in the most effective manner and will formalize performance measures to see what is working and what is not.

“For the first time in probably 20 years, all three shelters will be adequately funded, so the operators can focus on programming rather than bake sales, or lobbying the community for donations.”

The money comes at a time when the province and federal government are rethinking their approach to social housing.

Stable housing is an important determinant of health and Wall says the social housing system needs to be better integrated and partnered with the health care sector. Access to supportive services like addictions and mental health, or geriatric mental health for those aging in place are important for vulnerable clients to maintain their housing.

“Without supports, often the inevitable outcome is potential eviction and that’s a very sad state to end up in,” said Wall. “Part of the challenge is how to coordinate some of those services. As a housing provider we need to be doing a much better job at partnering with local service agencies. That’s starting to happen, but our planning needs to be much more integrated instead of this silo approach that says ‘this is health care’ and this is ‘housing’ when really they are so interconnected.”

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