Tents have been set up on the lawn outside city hall, behind the North Bay Public Library as a demonstration protesting the city’s infrastructure for homeless people.
Shane Moyer, an advocate who has been homeless for eight years, says that over 100 people came and went from the array of tents on Monday evening.
“We need enough significant beds to house everybody to get everybody out of the cold. We have 130 people out on the street,” Moyer said. “The crisis centre is full, the warming centre isn’t completed yet and it’s getting colder. I almost suffered from hypothermia last night.”
Moyer says that the city’s existing shelters have reached capacity, forcing many people back out onto the streets.
Mark King, Board Chair of the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB) talked to the people tenting outside city hall on Monday, encouraging them to use the existing shelters within the city.
“That was the main concern from my viewpoint. To make sure that there are facilities available to these people and there are. Even if there’s overcrowding, there’s a facility for these people to stay in,” King insisted.
Adamant that the city’s current infrastructure is sufficient, King isn’t on board with the tent demonstration.
“I’m absolutely certain, without question, that the organizations here in the city are quite capable of handling the situation. That’s not the issue. I think the issue at this point is about protesting,” said King, adding that he recognizes the hardships that those who are homeless have gone through.
Moyer says that part of the demonstration is to get more support from the city for the upcoming winter.
“Time is of the essence to get these people off the street because the snow is going to hit soon and people aren’t going to be able to survive out here,” he said.
Chris Mayne, a board member with DNSSAB says that he and his colleagues are doing the best that they can to address the short-term issue.
“It’s hard to do anything quickly to make significant growth to the number of spaces within the community but we are trying given the resources that we have,” Mayne said. “In the meantime, we’re trying to work with the existing inventory of homes we have in the community but understand that there just aren’t enough overall accommodations within the city.”
Both Mayne and King admit that the combination of the pandemic and oncoming winter months will bring up challenges for DNSSAB in the short term while they continue to try and build more permanent long-term solutions. Mayne suggested that an out-of-use hockey arena could be set up as a temporary shelter again in the winter should it be needed.
The low-barrier shelter on Chippewa street – formerly an OPP headquarters – has 10 beds for people to use, with an additional 10 beds also being added. Mayne says that churches and other usual community spaces that support the homeless have had to cut back on services due to health protocols brought on by the pandemic.
Mayne also underscores the fact that homeless shelters are expensive. He says that the temporary shelter set up at Pete Palangio Arena over the summer cost around $200,000 per month to operate. He believes that the bill shouldn’t fall solely on the people of North Bay.
“Working with the province as a partner I think is the right direction to go rather than simply take on those costs ourselves as members of the municipality,” he said.
King is confident that DNSSAB has “been very successful” in some of its past requests from senior levels of government. He maintains that the overall issue of homeless stems back to one factor.
“Often, the drivers of those numbers revert right back to mental illness and drug addiction. There’s no question in my mind over the last five years that it’s escalated,” he said.
As for the tents outside city hall, Shane Moyer says that he will stay until he feels like the homeless community is sufficiently taken care of.
“I’m in for the long haul. Until everybody is in and out of the cold and housed, I’m here,” he said.