Six organizations in Thunder Bay, Ont., have received a total of $2.9 million to create or improve shelter beds and transitional housing in the city.
Matawa First Nations Management, Grace Place, Urban Abbey, Dilico Anishinabek Family Care, Marjorie House and the John Howard Society all got a cut of the funding, which was delivered through the federal-provincial Safe Restart Agreement to help municipalities recover from COVID-19.
“This was specifically done by the federal and provincial governments to start … getting us out of the COVID-19 pit,” said Lucy Kloosterhuis, the chair of the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board, which distributed the funds.
“Now we have to move forward. And we have to advocate and ask for more money to get the transitional homes and the homes for those that are homeless.”
The region is desperate for transitional housing in order to help people with addictions and mental health issues overcome homelessness, Kloosterhuis said.
It also needs more affordable housing for those who are homeless who do not face additional issues such as addictions.
Matawa First Nations Management received more than $1 million of the funds to help pay for its family crisis shelter project and youth shelter beds.
The family crisis shelter will provide emergency housing for families facing situations — such as financial hardship, medical challenges or loss of housing to fire — who risk getting caught up in the child welfare system, said Matawa political advisor Paul Capon.
“We have a challenge for women with children that are not fleeing violence,” Capon said of the need for the beds. “We also have a case of men that have children that have no place … to stay as well. So it’s there to support families in whatever form those families arrive.”
The new shelter will have a community kitchen and will offer other supports beyond simply a roof over one’s head, he said.
Matawa plans to have it open in the spring.
The six youth shelter beds, meanwhile, will be tied to the Matawa Education and Care Centre in the former Grandview Lodge, Capon said.
The goal is to provide shelter for homeless youth and to try and connect them with other supports available through the centre, including educational opportunities, Capon said.
“They’ve had cases of … having kids that didn’t have a place to stay,” he said. “And they could be anything from kids that have been in the shelter or hostel or other places, coming out of care, that just have no place to stay.”
The beds should be open by the late spring or summer, he added.
In addition to Matawa, five other organizations received a cut of the $2.9 million.
Dilico Anishinabek Family Care received $800,000 to help acquire and update space for use as transitional housing for Indigenous people facing addictions and mental health issues, according to a news release issued by the DSSAB on Friday.
Grace Place and Marjorie House both received funding to retrofit and upgrade their existing shelter spaces, and the John Howard Society received funding to retrofit its existing transitional housing facility.
In addition, Urban Abbey received $195,000 to help fund building upgrades for its new transitional emergency shelter for women.
That included an expensive new integrated fire alarm system, said head of staff Scotland Morrison. Next up is the completion of shower facilities.
“We were very happy and thrilled to receive it,” Morrison said of the funds. “We weren’t quite sure where the funding was going to come from.”
Kloosterhuis acknowledged that the projects funded by the federal-provincial funds may seem small in comparison to the need in Thunder Bay district, but she said they are small steps forward, and they hopefully represent a trend that will continue.
“It does seem a little bit at times that northwestern Ontario has been a little left out of the money for transitional housing,” she said, “but we’re hoping that if we lobby enough, someone will listen to us, and we’ll see some more money coming our way.”