Sioux Lookout Mayor backs NDP MPPs’ call for immediate provincial action to alleviate homelessness
Tim Brody - Editor
Sol Mamakwa, MPP for Kiiwetinoong and Rima Berns-McGown, Ontario NDP critic for Poverty and Homelessness, are calling on the provincial government to take immediate action to alleviate homelessness in the North.
The call for action by the NDP MPPs comes after City of Kenora councillors defeated a proposed loitering bylaw.
“The provincial government never should have let the homelessness crisis in Ontario get to this point, and turned their back on municipalities that need help,” said Berns-McGown in an NDP media release. “Solving this crisis of homelessness requires support from all levels of government, but the province has been cutting instead of investing in solutions.
“That means properly funding social services and shelters, as well as transitional, supportive, and rent-geared-to-income housing for people in need across Northern Ontario.”
“Municipalities like Kenora and Sioux Lookout require support from higher levels of government to work on not only the issue of the emergency of people without homes but the deeper systemic change needed to help the vulnerable members of our communities,” added Mamakwa in the NDP media release. “Implementing municipal anti-loitering by-laws is racism and will not solve the homelessness crisis in the North.
“Real collaboration is needed to address the issues of colonialism and racism in our communities, as well as increased housing and social supports. Northwestern Ontario needs all of its leaders to deal proactively with these emergencies, especially those that adversely affect our disproportionately marginalized community members.”
Speaking with The Bulletin Mamakwa said of the idea of fining people struggling with homelessness, “We cannot treat people like that. We are all human beings.”
He added, “The provincial government should never have let the crisis get to that point whereby they’re turning their back on municipalities that need help.”
Mamakwa said addressing homelessness will require support from all levels of government, “Instead the province has been cutting instead of investing in solutions. We need to be able to properly fund some of the programs that are there, whether it’s social services, whether its shelters, as well as transitional, supportive and geared to income housing.”
“In 2018 alone in Sioux Lookout, there’s 10 people without homes that died. That’s a statistic that we don’t usually talk about, but they’re human beings – that’s the bottom line. They’re dealing with mental health, addictions, there’s a reason that they’re there and these systems have been there for generations and you know, the colonialism, colonization, that’s what it does to people, whether it’s residential schools – we have to work together… we have to come up with solutions together,” Mamakwa commented.
Grand Council Treaty #3 and Nishnawbe Aski Nation urged Kenora City Council to reject the proposed by-law.
A joint media release issued on July 17 stated, “The social issues facing Kenora are well known by GCT3 and NAN, as a large amount of their work consists of advocating for the marginalized and proposing options that can lead to alleviating the struggles faced by our people. COVID-19 has not created these problems, but the pandemic has made them worse. NAN and GCT3 acknowledge that these problems are incredibly complex and that solutions are not easy to accomplish. However, unilateral measures such as this proposed by-law do nothing to help and will cause further harm to vulnerable members of society and create further divisions in the region.
“GCT3 and NAN are prepared to work with municipalities and any partners that seek to address these issues in a productive manner. No one organization or government will be able to solve the social issues in Kenora, as solutions require collaboration and sincere efforts at reconciliation. It is abundantly clear through the ongoing efforts of Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Grand Council Treaty #3 that solving these issues will also require a multifaceted approach to address homelessness, addictions, the lack of economic opportunities, and the chronic dysfunction of the justice system in Ontario’s north.”
“MPP Sol Mamakwa is correct when he says “Municipalities like Kenora and Sioux Lookout require support from higher levels of government to work on not only the issue of the emergency of people without homes but the deeper systemic change needed to help the vulnerable members of our communities”. For many years Sioux Lookout Councils have been saying this,” said Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance.
“In fact, in the last six years we have presented the sad statistics of this on-going crisis to relevant provincial ministries, task forces, and committees. We have met with Ministers and their staffs. We have provided over fifty evidence based briefing notes requesting their action on a diverse range of measures related to homelessness, mental health, addictions, justice, corrections, youth and women’s safety, and health care. We have requested services, programs, and facilities for Sioux Lookout such as: a new fully resourced shelter complete with drop-in centre and access to counselling services, alternative justice, supportive housing, addictions treatment centre complete with detox, safe houses for women and youth, mobile crisis response, and yes – we have requested a fully funded Bear Clan service,” Lawrance added.
“It is my contention that as leaders, Sioux Lookout Municipal Councils, have acted proactively with this long-time and growing emergency. However, over the years our action has resulted in relatively little action from the Province. Early in pre-COVID 2020, when we were provided the opportunity to meet with ministers in Toronto, we provided a tabularized summary of all our requests to them related to homelessness, mental health, and addictions. And we said, here is a record of our collective failure to respond to these challenges. As well as provincial ministers and municipal leaders, that failure must be shared by ministry staff, by both mainstream and First Nation agencies who have such things as mental health and addictions treatment under their area of service delivery, by the Federal Government (to whom we have also presented the facts), and yes First Nation governments. And, that failure must be shared by society at large for ignoring the challenges or worse, knowing the challenges and not giving governments the licence and support for fulsome solutions,” Lawrance shared.
Lawrance stated, “Loitering by-laws are a reaction when the inaction on the root causes puts the resulting challenges on our doorsteps, sidewalks, and parks. The frustration is understandable. However, the expression of our frustration should be directed to those who can effect real change. In Sioux Lookout, putting our police or by-law officers in a position where they must move people along is almost hopeless – move them where? Issue tickets with fines that will likely not be paid? Send people home? In Canada, thankfully, we have freedom to choose where we live.
“And yes, there is racism involved. In Sioux Lookout the vast majority of the people in the so-called loitering situation are Indigenous. Comments, attitudes, and even good intentions are seen to be based on race. Plain and simple the inaction on the challenges being faced in Sioux Lookout fosters both racism and perceptions of racism.”
Lawrance explained that the Municipality is presently undertaking the provincially mandated Community Safety and Well-Being Plan. “This plan should capture the challenges being faced by all of us – from those living in fine homes with supportive families to those living with no homes and few supports. We all need to live with dignity. Those of us with more privilege must do what we can to help those with less. Addressing the challenges will help us all live with dignity. When the plan is complete it will be presented to the province and will also help inform our actions moving forward.”
Lawrance concluded, “Municipalities and their Councils are put square on the front lines of the fight with very little ammunition and little or no support from headquarters. Worse, for Sioux Lookout the solutions to the challenges we face and have for so long brought to Provincial attention are often addressed in Kenora, Thunder Bay, Toronto, and elsewhere.
“We will continue to work proactively to address our challenges. But all we can do, even with appropriate help from outside, is treat the symptoms of the underlying issues as they present on our streets and in our municipality. We will call on appropriate local agencies to step up, on First Nations to understand and help with our challenges, and on the Provincial Government to have appropriate ministries address their responsibilities to all the people in Sioux Lookout. To do otherwise will continue to result in lost dignity for all, worsening statistics, and human tragedies.”