The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (RRDSSAB) is taking steps to protect the most vulnerable populations in Fort Frances and the district.
In a press release dated April 7, 2020, the RRDSSAB outlined what steps they have taken to ensure that the homeless population in the area can be looked after safely as the COVID-19 pandemic marches on as well as how a number of dollars coming in from various levels of government are being handled.
“The Rainy River DSSAB continues to work with municipalities and our Homelessness Committee to address the issues across the district,” the RRDSSAB said in the release.
“With the funding provided, the RRDSSAB is moving forward with a plan to address concerns related to COVID-19 in the homeless population. The best solution, decided with the assistance of the Fort Frances Municipal Control Group, was to enter into an agreement with the Sleepy Owl Motel in Fort Frances. The RRDSSAB will be transitioning the homeless to the motel commencing April 15, in conjunction with the closure of the Warming Centre on April 17.”
RRDSSAB CAO Dan McCormick explained the agreement with the Sleepy Owl allows for the DSSAB to work with the homeless population in fort Frances to try and encourage them to self-isolate.
“We've booked the entire top floor,” McCormick said.
“The only thing is of course we can't make people go into our care. People that are positive, of course, can be ordered into quarantine and if they don't quarantine, then it's an OPP and health unit issue. That's sort of the two key things.”
While the Sleepy Owl will be set up to provide temporary shelter to those in need, McCormick noted that there will still be screening measures in place, much like there are currently at the Warming Centre.
“It's pretty much the same requirements as getting into our current Warming Centre,” he explained.
“Basically, you have to be homeless. In this case, in the evening you can't come and go, we'll be restricting the hours. Right now at the Warming Center, I think it's 11:00 p.m. till 6:30 a.m. you can't go out or in, so the building's locked down and we'll be doing the same thing [at the Sleepy Owl].”
McCormick noted that there is a disparity between the number of people the DSSAB can admit using this program and those who make use of the Family Centre, noting that while the Family Centre can extend their services to those who still have a home and rely on them for other things like food, the RRDSSAB can't.
As long as those who are staying at the Sleepy Owl remain symptom free, they will be allowed to come and go from their rooms during the day as they please, though McCormick stressed that the RRDSSAB will be encouraging them to self-isolate as much as possible.
“We'll be encouraging them to stay in social isolation,” he said.
“It will have a TV, they'll have access to local phone lines and stuff, we'll also have internet there and we'll have a couple computers that they'll be able to sign out, like laptops to take the their rooms.”
The press release from the RRDSSAB also states that only those who are willing to stay at the hotel will be housed in this program, citing the inability to force them to accept it as an option.
The funding for the program is coming from the Province and is tied to an announcement made late last month.
“On March 23, the Province announced that $200M in new funding would be made available through Consolidated Municipal Service Managers (CMSMs) and District Social Services Administration Boards (DSSABs) to support municipalities, food banks, homeless shelters and individuals,” the RRDSSAB stated in the press release.
“Our allocation letter was received on Thursday, April 2 and indicates we will be receiving $92,500. This funding is to provide supports until March 31, 2021 for current COVID-19, a reoccurrence of COVID-19 or new strains in 2021.”
However, the funding that has made its way up to Northwestern Ontario is not coming without controversy.
The press release from the RRDSSAB notes that of the $2-million in funding that has been earmarked for the Rainy River and Kenora Districts, more than $1.9-million of that funding will be going to the Kenora district.
McCormick notes that they've brought the disparity in funding levels between the two districts up with government, but that there isn't much more they can do at this time.
“I can't say much more other than we've raised concerns with both Minister Rickford and the Ministry of Housing,” he said.
“They are looking into it. I've been told, 'well, there's a greater need in the Kenora area right now.' I'm just looking at the overall disparity. We have a pretty good idea what the north got and we're probably the lowest in the whole Province from what I'm seeing, so I'm a little bit upset about that. They also advised us that only 50 percent of the funds are being flowed here immediately, the other 50 percent will probably be in four weeks or so. So they may do another adjustment before they flow the second half of the funding. We'll wait and see.”
There is also some federal funding that has been announced in the same vein as the money coming from the Province, and while McCormick said there's likely a chance to get some more money for these kinds of projects that way, there aren't many details for them yet.
“Although that's been announced, there is supposed to be a formal application process, but they haven't even put the application process out yet,” he explained.
“So we'll be looking at applying for that as long as we're eligible as well.”
The press release from the RRDSSAB thanks the Homelessness Committee, the Northwestern Health Unit, RRDSSAB staff and the Fort Frances Municipal Control Group for their help in creating a plan using the Provincial Funding, and Fort Frances Mayor June Caul noted that they have been working hard to try and find a solution for a complicated issue.
“The town has tried to do what we can to help come up with solutions,” Mayor Caul said.
“For example, when we met the other day I was hoping that maybe we could even use just a small part of the arena but nobody wants to use the arena because it will be the secondary hospital if we happen to need it. Really there's no place in town for that except at the arena, as far as public buildings go and we didn't want to see them have to be showering all in the same area either because that's not exactly very safe either.”
“So the solution is coming,” she continued.
“I know some people are frustrated that it hasn't happened yet, but as with everything else, DSSAB has had to go through hoops and red tape and paperwork and everything to be able to get everything in place and it's pretty much in place now.”