RRDSSAB chair and CAO reflect on past year of programming

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (RRDSSAB) held their annual general meeting at La Place Rendez-Vous on May 19, where CAO Dan McCormick and board chair Deb Ewald presented their annual reports reflecting on 2021 and the organizations’ successes and shortcomings.

In McCormick’s report, he noted that 2021 saw the continued rise of COVID-19 and its variants in the region, which led to a number of funding initiatives from different levels of government that the RRDSSAB was able to access and use to implement new safety initiatives for their programs.

“With these funds, policy and procedures and the supply of personal protective equipment and Rapid tests, staff and management were able to minimize the effect on operations,” McCormick said.

“Staff continue to work diligently to ensure the safety/exposure of staff/clients to COVID-19 is limited and the effects are minimized. Throughout 2021 programs have been maintained and operated to Provincial standards and directives which were rapidly changing, sometimes on a weekly basis. Some face to face client interactions continued to be interrupted, however virtual contacts were maintained and services continued to be delivered.”

Ewald said that the RRDSSAB was fortunate to receive the additional funding to help the organization alleviate any shortfalls caused by the pandemic and to help keep the board’s various projects, including renovations on the Out of the Cold centre, moving forward.

On the subject of the former Apostolic Way Church on Victoria Ave., now the Out of the Cold Warming Centre and the location of the Safe Bed and Transition program staffed by the Fort Frances branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), McCormick said the renovations to the centre are ongoing but expected to be completed in the fall of 2022 in time for it to reopen for the winter. Additionally, the transition bed space with six beds is expected to be complete at the same time.

Even though the renovation project ran into the same supply issues as many other building and construction projects during the pandemic, Ewald noted they managed to work through those issues

“The Out of the Cold Warming Centre was opened in a provisional location as the permanent
location on the lower floor was not ready,” Ewald said.

“The Shelter was well used over the winter and provided the homeless in our area a safe, warm, welcoming place to stay. Work continues on the lower level which will house the permanent seasonal Warming Centre as well as the second floor area where the Transitional Beds program will be located. When completed in 2022, this project will provide a very much needed facility with services for those in our District suffering from Mental Health, Addictions and Homelessness. This is a good partnership between RRDSSAB and CMHA-FF. Additional funding for this project was provided by the Ministry of Health.”

McCormick explained that the entire facility is aimed at helping to address the town’s homelessness issues by helping those experiencing homeless through a number of different stages.

“The focus of [the centre] is to help individuals get off the street into the warming centre, nightly during winter months, and then be directed in the Safe Bed program followed by up to two years in the Transition Bed program,” McCormick said.

“Support services continue across all three programs with the goal of preparing them for permanent tenancies. The fall of 2021 saw the first success with the opening of five ‘Safe’ Beds operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association, Fort Frances Branch. This partnership has already realized successes as communicated by individuals that have went through the program.”

Issues around housing and supply are also being addressed by RRDSSAB, as the organization is actively working to re-develop the former St. Michael’s School building and surrounding grounds to be the new home of 13 seniors’ apartments, a new Early ON Centre, and 40 new singles apartments. While progress on that project has been delayed due to a zoning appeal, McCormick noted he expects that issue to be resolved sometime this year.

Other improvements seen in the district were the various childcare spaces that were opened in 2021, a response to the province investing $1.6-billion dollars in 2017 to build 45,000 new licensed child care spaces in Ontario.

“Tall Oaks Atelier located in Robert Moore School was renovated to accommodate staff offices, a new kitchen and an infant care area,” McCormick said.

“Stepping Stones Atelier, the new Childcare Centre which is attached to Donald Young School in Emo was completed and opened in 2021. The program can host up to 10 infants, 15 toddlers and 24 preschool children. Work was also completed on the new Indigenous Led Childcare Centre on McIrvine Road in Fort Frances. The United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC) opened in 2021 and can accommodate 10 infant, 15 toddler and 24 preschool children.”

McCormick and Ewald extended their thanks to all of the RRDSSAB staff who have worked throughout the pandemic to address issues in the district, as well as to help achieve the successes the board has seen throughout the pandemic.

“Although COVID-19 has hindered future development, impacted service delivery and caused stress across staff, clients and patients, I am pleased to note that our programs, Ontario Works, Children’s Services, Community Housing and Paramedic Services continue to be delivered with care, compassion and integrity within approved budgets,” McCormick said.

“This is due to Board, Management and staff who remain committed to delivery of quality services while working to address future needs. Thank you!”

“These partnerships are crucial to the health and well-being of all District residents,” Ewald said.
“I would like to thank all those who do an exemplary job for the RRDSSAB day after day. This includes the CAO, Management, and Staff who work in Community Housing, Ontario Works, Paramedic Services and Children’s Services. The work you do makes a great difference throughout the entire Rainy River District. Finally, I would like to thank the Board Members who so capably represent their communities on this Board. The leadership and dedication you give is reflected in the ongoing projects that the RRDSSAB carries out. I would be remiss in not thanking all the District Municipalities for the financial contributions that make the RRDSSAB a reality as well.”