With the issue of homelessness becoming more visible during the warm months in Fort Frances, community service agencies that make up a homelessness committee are working on a number of projects to address the matter.
The committee, led in partnership between the United Native Friendship Centre and the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, is dedicated to enhancing services and the response to homelessness in Rainy River District, in pursuit of the goal of ending it.
It is comprised of local representatives from Rainy River District Victim Services, Salvation Army, OPP, Fort Frances Jail, Probation and Parole, Northwest Community Legal Clinic, Riverside Health Care, Canadian Mental Health Association, Child and Family Services, Northwestern Health Unit, Métis Nations of Ontario, local churches, and the Women's Shelter of Hope, as well as with consultation from those with lived experience.
Over the past year, the committee became action-oriented following an assessment of the needs of the homeless population and the barriers they are facing.
Top priorities identified include establishing a low-barrier shelter, forming a homelessness prevention program, and seeking funding for a transitional housing for those exiting homelessness to learn life skills in the goal of becoming independently housed.
“The committee has applied for funding for a shelter and transitional housing hybrid and though [it] was unsuccessful, [it] is continuing to seek funding sources to make this a reality in our community,” noted DSSAB CAO Dan McCormick.
“Unfortunately, the homelessness funding we receive from the province is tied to services and capital projects, such as building a shelter or purchasing a building, and renovating it is ineligible,” he added.
“In the meantime, the group has been working on trying to make a temporary 'out of the cold' shelter a reality to address the urgent need in the short term,” said UNFC executive director Sheila McMahon.
“We are aware of the concerns in the community, and are collaborating to make this shelter happen and get people off the street,” she stressed.
A success of the committee to date includes the creation of the Fort Frances Situation Table, which went live back in April.
A situation table brings front-line human services agencies together across a range of sectors to identify situations involving individuals who are at an acutely-elevated risk of harm and provides an immediate, co-ordinated intervention with appropriate supports before they reach a crisis point.
Far from just a homelessness prevention initiative, situation tables have been known to have far-reaching effects, including a decrease in violent crime, reduced emergency department visits, reduced calls to police for service, and increased public safety and community well-being.
The Fort Frances Situation Table meets twice monthly.
At present time, the homelessness committee is focused heavily on addressing the barriers to getting the pop-up shelter in place, including funding for modifications to the church to accommodate the shelter space and staffing.
Additionally, with the results of the 2018 Homeless Enumeration expected to be released publicly in October, the group is planning an awareness and fundraising event for the shelter.
This event will be announced in the coming weeks.
Individuals or families who currently are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, are encouraged to visit the DSSAB office (450 Scott St.) or the UNFC (516 Portage Ave.) to learn what supports may be available.