KDSB selection as Reaching Home designated community called good news for Sioux Lookout, region
Tim Brody - Editor
The Kenora District Services Board (KDSB) is one of six new Designated Community expansions approved for the Canada-wide Reaching Home Program.
“This is really, really good news for not just Sioux Lookout, but also for the entire region. It’s been a long time coming, where we are finally deemed to be a designated community under the federal program to end homelessness. It’s something I would say for the last 20 years it feels like, that our communities have been asking and applying, and it’s taken this long to finally get some good news where we will have a Federal Government who is now going to be a formal partner when it comes to implementing a plan and a strategy to end homelessness across the region,” commented KDSB Chief Administrative Officer Henry Wall.
“The support from the Municipality of Sioux Lookout and the support from Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority and their communities, made all the difference in the application,” Wall said, explaining, “When they did the rebranding from the Homelessness Partnering Strategy to Reaching Home, part of that plan was the (federal) government was looking at expanding the number of designated communities across Canada and they were looking at adding four to six communities to that. They did an invitation for interest and of course we jumped on that. Historically what’s held us back is that… one of the criteria was communities with a population of 30,000 or more, and we know that not a single community in the District of Kenora has that kind of a population, and so by default we were just excluded from ever formally having a link to the Federal Government when it comes to ending homelessness. And yet when you look at our region, there is no comparison to the rate of homelessness to other regions in Canada. What was different this time was that we applied as a region, where our nine municipalities, in partnership with First Nation communities supported one application for one region. Through that, we were shortlisted. About a year ago, we were notified we were one of 16 communities in the running. That got us really excited and we were asked to submit a formal proposal. We did that as a collective and just a couple weeks ago we received the really good news that we’re finally a Reaching Home designated community.”
“This is a bit of a milestone announcement for KDSB and the municipalities in the District of Kenora. Before this application, previous applications to the Federal program have been unsuccessful. In part, our success this time is due to the increasing and positive engagement between municipal and First Nation leadership,” Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance shared. “With KDSB acting as a designated community for the Reaching Home Program, municipalities will have an opportunity to sit at a regional table and help guide KDSB as to what the needs are and how the Program will be most beneficial. We will also be able to utilize, advance and strengthen existing agreements and partnerships with First Nations and First Nation agencies, which presents another opportunity in the steady path of relationship building. Finally, it is very significant that this Program comes from the Federal Government direct to municipalities, we are hopeful that this opens a pathway for more Federal involvement with municipalities in our region,” Lawrance said.
Wall said once a regional table can be put together, “It’s an opportunity for our municipalities and our First Nation partners and communities to come together and work at one table for a collective strategy… it allows us to hope that we’re going to be ending homelessness instead of managing it.”
He added, “It’s going to allow us to build on the work that was started about a year ago, when KDSB and Nishnawbe Aski Nation signed a Memorandum of Understanding, an acknowledgment by our collective leadership that we want to ensure health equity and make sure everybody has equal opportunity, it comes by us working together to ensure that we have a collaborative way to design and promote strategy that actually give our communities the tools and the skills to end homelessness.”
He added, “While the funding isn’t a significant amount, it’s $1.3 million over the next four years, so you do the math, you won’t be able to build a brand new shelter with that, however, it does mean that we have Canada as a formal partner at the table when it comes to ending homelessness.”
Wall said the announcement is a step on the path to a new shelter building in Sioux Lookout, “Sioux Lookout needs a new shelter. The shelter that exists now, the building has served a really good purpose, but it’s in need of significant repair and I think as a community and as a region we need to do better with respect to having a place that is accessible and that you can actually support ending homelessness as well, a place that support services can come in and support individuals, meet them where they are at, and from that, we need to get to work, we need to roll up our sleeves, KDSB and communities to make sure that Sioux Lookout gets a new building that can properly support individuals that are on the streets and set them up on a path that gets them off the street.”
“Our region, and in particular Sioux Lookout, has done amazing things when you consider the limited resources and tools that our community partners have, a lot has been achieved… In the last 36 months, 266 individuals (regionally) have been moved from the street, who were homeless, into housing,” Wall said.
“All communities in Canada, to some extent or another, struggle with the challenge of homelessness. But what is not normal is the extent and the magnitude of it. We look at, in 2018 when did the homelessness study across the region, we had close to 400 people that were identified as being homeless at that time, meaning that we probably have more than 400 people who are homeless or on the streets at any given time across the region. We compare that to other regions, let’s say we compare it to the region of Halton as an example, which has a population of just under 600,000 people. They had 260 some individuals in their last homelessness immersion study, and yet we’re asking our nine small municipalities with a population of less than 40,000 to tackle a challenge that is far greater than say a region that has close to 600,000 people, and a region that is getting three to four times the amount of funding from different levels of government to address the issue,” Wall commented.
Wall commented of the Cold Weather Drop In Centre which operated in downtown Sioux Lookout during the winter, “What it did this winter is that it saved lives. I think it shows the level of compassion that exists within Sioux Lookout and people’s willingness to help, but people also need to know how they can help. I think that’s the other piece that I’m quite excited about as we move forward is to really bring the community along and think, how can we all do our part so that our vulnerable population feel like they belong, that they’re respected, that they have dignity. Those things are just as important as the housing itself. When people feel like they belong, it makes all the difference and we can start tackling some really challenging issues around mental health and addictions as well… I am so hopeful we will have a day that we will have ended homelessness in Sioux Lookout.”