Fort Frances Family Centre sees three deaths by overdose before Christmas

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative

While many area residents geared up for winter festivities over the holidays, some were faced with the stark reminder that they don’t have a family to go home to. A volunteer at the Fort Frances Family Centre expressed concern that the people who need the most help are the ones most often turned away.

“It’s been a difficult time,” said Traci Lockman, a long-time volunteer at the Family Centre, a centre that offers hot meals and facilities for the homeless.

“They’ve already destroyed most of their connections with their family. They’re not welcome back home. A lot of times, they’re not welcome back in their communities, period. And so the sad part is that nothing changes [over the holidays]. They don’t go visit their families and their families don’t come and visit.”

She said that the Centre saw three deaths caused by overdose the week before Christmas.

During a time of loss, the biggest thing on her mind is the lack of resources for those who need them. She said they have seen a huge increase in donations for the food bank, however accommodations continue to be a big concern.

Many seek shelter at the Nugget Motel, an old hotel in downtown Fort Frances.

“We have different accommodations around here but a lot of our people can’t utilize them,” Lockman said, referring to shelters in the area. “We have a number with schizophrenia who live on the streets, they’re just deteriorating. And they’re just racking up criminal charges one right after the other. They’re the ones who need a stabilization 30-day bed.”

“It’s just a vicious circle. Nobody’s prepared to take the people who really need to be stabilized.”

She provided the example of one frequent visitor at the centre who has dealt with behavioral and learning issues due to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and who is unlikely to be accepted into a shelter due to his criminal past.

“He’s staying with friends temporarily. We’re trying to get him into the transition house in his community. But there’s been a lot of barriers,” Lockman said.

“We have another transitional housing in town, and he’s hopeful they’re gonna have a spot there, but he has provided criminal records.”

He has spent time in jail, which has been a barrier to some services.

“But he’s come so far. He’s amazing. He’s off of drugs and alcohol right now,” Lockman said.

She added that sobriety is “never a guarantee” and she is trying her best to keep him on track.