Councillor Mark King is confident that North Bay’s social services will be able to handle the recent influx of homeless people in the area.
King, the Chair of the District of Nipissing Social Services Board (DNSSAB) says the recent $4.2 million in provincial funding will be helpful in the construction of a low-barrier shelter being built out of the former OPP headquarters on Chippewa Street.
“This is truly the right way to try and help people off the street,” King commented on the shelter. The facility currently has 16 beds which King says will be ready before Christmas. Construction of 20 additional transitional housing beds is also expected to be done in the New Year.
The $4.2 million in funding was announced as homeless activists picketed outside of Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli’s office on Friday during a city-wide demonstration.
At the protest, activist Shane Moyer said the shelter at Chippewa Street has been at capacity every night, with a spillover of nearly 70 people.
King says even with the shelter on Chippewa Street full, there are still options available for those to get off the street.
“If the low-barrier shelter is full, then those people go to the crisis centre. If there’s no opportunity at the crisis centre then they go to hotels,” he explained, adding that the hotel across from the Kennedy Building downtown is still taking people in.
While the low-barrier shelter promises to provide a place to stay for the night, King says that the transitional housing beds being built at the Chippewa Street shelter will be key in helping people stay off the streets.
“This transitional housing is I think the next step towards normal living where hopefully, these people come out of transitional housing after a period of time and are able to live on their own without support,” King said. “I think that it’s a good plan.”
Part of Friday’s protest was to also provide better support for those battling addiction and mental health. Shane Moyer says the 12-step process of treating addiction is not effective for the people he is seeing on the streets.
“A lot of them would be much more comfortable going through a guided self-help program rather than a 12-step program,” he said. “They don’t want the fear of God put into them.”
King says he’s been in discussion with some of the addiction services available in the city to address the current treatment methods.
“I think we’ve found that a lot of people have fallen through the cracks of the system. I know that there has been major reorganization that’s taken place in the city and I get the impression from these different organizations that they’re working as hard as they can. There’s a lot of adjustments going on from some of these organizations,” he noted.
The issue of homelessness has gained traction in recent weeks since Moyer and a handful of others slept in tents outside of city hall for over a week as a demonstration. Shortly after that, two downtown business owners gave a presentation to city council outlining their concerns about homelessness in the area.
King believes that despite the recent attention on the issue, DNSSAB has acted accordingly to help out the city’s homeless.
“Six months ago, we didn’t even have a low-barrier shelter. There was no such thing,” he said.
Moyer says that partially due to the pandemic, more people have come from surrounding areas attempting to access North Bay’s social services. King confirmed this, adding that he’s tried to work on reducing the number of people coming from out of town.
“I can tell you that people have been sent here from other regions without question. How many? I don’t know. Is it impacting us? It probably is. Can we stop it? I don’t believe we can,” he said.