Partnerships make for successful community projects

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

Projects and initiatives in the community are often a result of partnerships between organizations dedicated to making improvements to the living conditions.

The same could be applied to The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (RRDSSAB) and the Canadian Mental Health Association in Fort Frances. RRDSSAB and CMHA have been partnering in several projects to tackle the homelessness issue along with reducing the opioid crisis.

Safe Beds and Transition Beds are two examples of projects that have come to fruition when the two organizations joined forces to complete them.

The Safe Beds program, which began operating last month, has been a success. Safe Beds is a short-term residential program that provides temporary housing and a safe environment where a person can manage their mental health crisis with the support of trained CMHA experts and other community partners, including the RRDSSAB.

Dan McCormick, chief administrative officer at RRDSSAB, said the idea is to get people off the street after they are referred by either OPP or Treaty 3.

“Or they may go in voluntarily,” McCormick said. “If we can get them through the Safe Beds program, then hopefully we can get them into transition beds, where they’ll continue to receive support. Right now we have nowhere to put them when they come out and getting rental accommodations in the town of Fort Frances right now is next to impossible.”

McCormick stressed that there is both a shortage of housing in the district and Fort Frances and other problems with getting people into treatment.

“We had to make a concerted group effort to try to get some funding. CMHA worked on getting the operational dollars which were successful for the safe beds,” McCormick added. “And we worked on getting a structure that could be renovated to accommodate both the safe beds, but also our warming centre, and also in the future transition beds.”

Charlene Strain, executive director at CMHA Fort Frances branch, said the completion of these projects entails securing the money, having the experts that run the programs and a building to house them.

Because each organization has different mandates, McCormick said, funding is often siloed. McCormick said he can get the buildings and look after them.

“But I don’t have either the expertise or the want to do the mental health and addiction stuff. In our district, it’s not just opioids, it’s drugs and it’s alcohol, as well. Without this continuum of care, we’re hooped. You need an expert in that.”

“They know how to deal with these people,” he added. “And the whole idea is we’ve got to get people off the street, we’ve got to get people out of the opioid crisis.”

The continuum of care would see individuals through several levels of treatment, before finally settling in affordable housing units.

Strain said the absence of the continuum of care in the long-term is problematic because it increases the risk of using substances again after individuals leave the short-term treatment facility.

McCormick said RRDSSAB is trying to purchase the former St. Michael’s school property on which housing units will be constructed. He said this will make more housing in general, and help create capacity and affordability across the District for individuals who leave treatment facilities.

“I checked the vacancy rate. We have 353 units across the district. And we have 13 vacancies right now, mainly due to death and transfers into seniors homes,” McCormick said. “Right now we basically have zero vacancy.”

McCormick said there is still work being done at the Out of the Cold shelter in order to have it fully equipped to house many programs and help the district become a better place.