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Shelter of Hope exploring amalgamation with Riverside

There are talks of amalgamating the Rainy River District Shelter of Hope with Riverside Health Care after the shelter turned to them for ‘operational assistance’ in absence of an executive director. The amalgamation request was made to the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS). The MCCSS is the main funder to the Shelter of Hope.

Kathryn Pierroz, communications director at Riverside Health Care, said Riverside will not take over operating the shelter. However, Pierroz said Riverside is being considered because of its district wide presence and health care continuum including community, housing, hospital and long-term care.

“We are simply exploring integration as an option at this time, Pierroz said in an email. “A request for approval to amalgamate the shelter into Riverside remains dependent on MCCSS approval. Our management is currently providing a level of operational assistance in the absence of an executive director, but is accountable to the Shelter of Hope’s board of directors.”

Martene Nelson sits on the shelter board and is also an employee of Riverside Health Care. She said in an emailed response that the board is exploring potential integration with Riverside Health Care because “its services run parallel to the needs of the population” the Shelter of Hope serves.

“The board saw this potential amalgamation as a ‘good fit’ and believes our existing programs and the services offered at Riverside Health Care would blend well and could allow for a seamless transition,” Nelson said in the email.

“The interest of the vulnerable sector the shelter serves is the primary focus of the board and exploring a potential integration of services as between the Shelter of Hope and Riverside Health Care is a consideration and viable option provided ministry approval is given.”

Kristen Tedesco, spokesperson for the MCCSS, said in an email that the original amalgamation request was made in July.

Tedesco said the conversation is still going to see how this potential amalgamation will continue to deliver violence against women services.

The Shelter of Hope in Atikokan, also known as the Atikokan Crisis Centre, was established in 1979 by women to help other women who are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Since its establishment, the shelter has been an independent entity only run by women.

With potential amalgamation, the future of the shelter’s independence and board members remain unclear.

Tedesco said that it is important to note that in Ontario, shelters are independent organizations governed by locally-elected boards of directors.

“The board is responsible for appointing individuals to management positions in order to help ensure that the violence against women shelters and community services they provide meet the legislative and regulatory requirements.”

The shelter board is currently operating with three members, almost half their capacity. Nelson said all six board members agreed to potential amalgamation before they resigned.

“The decision regarding potential amalgamation with Riverside Health Care was made prior to members resigning from the board,” Nelson said. “Those members, included an Atikokan member who fully supported potential amalgamation with Riverside before she left the Board on May 31, 2020.”

With the possible integration of services, it also remains unknown whether shelter will still only have women sit on the board.

Pierroz said the Riverside senior team does not only consist of men. Riverside fosters diversity and inclusion, ensuring equality for all genders, she added.

“The Riverside Health Care Board of Directors includes representatives from the Rainy River, Emo and Fort Frances areas, and is focused on adding a member from the community of Atikokan,” Pierroz said.

Tedesco said the MCCSS remains committed to supporting victims and survivors of domestic violence as well as combating domestic abuse in all its forms.

“Our government will continue to work together with community organizations, agencies, and shelters to ensure that women and their families affected by domestic violence are able to receive effective, accessible, and culturally-relevant solutions,” Tedesco added.

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