Thanks to the Ontario government, the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (RRDSSAB) is set to receive a funding increase of over $592,000, bringing the Homelessness Prevention Program and Indigenous Supportive Housing Program allocation to over $1.1 million for 2023-24.
RRDSSAB CAO Dan McCormick says provincial involvement is key.
“It makes makes a big difference,” he says. “When you’re trying to address homelessness with $540,000, it doesn’t go very far.”
McCormick says without this funding, “you’d be looking at 100 per cent municipal dollars to address the problem.”
“I would say [homelessness] is one of the most difficult problems we’re facing and it’s approaching a crisis point here and in the province,” says Fort Frances mayor Andrew Hallikas. “We have people with no place to live. I think it’s a problem everyone in the community worries about.”
McCormick says the warming centre in Fort Frances has averaged 5-14 people per night. But he says that only accounts for the “visible homeless.”
“We know there’s somewhere over 100, 120 homeless across the District,” says McCormick. “They just tend to migrate to Fort Frances because most of the services are here.”
Mayor Hallikas says the provincial funding is extremely important, noting its flexibility.
“It’s not prescribed to go in a certain place,” he says. “It can be used by the DSSAB where it will do the most good.”
“So for us, this is a big deal, because we can use it both for capital or for operations to address homelessness,” says McCormick.
He says some of the funding will be earmarked to help make transition beds operational at 324 Victoria, which will be in conjunction with the warming centre and the safe beds, currently operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
McCormick says the safe beds allow for 30-day stays. After that, there’s nothing. With provincial funding, RRDSSAB will implement six transition beds which can house people for up to two years while they remain in some sort of treatment program.
With what’s remaining, McCormick says they’ll also invest in the St. Michael’s property, where they’re looking to develop six eight plexes.
He says that addressing the continuum of care starts with permanent housing. The other thing they’re looking for is funding for mental health and addictions treatments. Mayor Hallikas echoed the need to address such issues on top of homelessness.
“Those are spillover problems. So it’s not a simple problem with a simple solution,” he says. “You can’t just throw money at it. You have to get to the root of the problem to solve it.”
Kenora–Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford says the funding provides an opportunity to perform responsible and appropriate intervention.
“Our government understands how critical RRDSSAB’s services are to improving the physical, mental, and social well-being of our community’s most vulnerable,” he said. “There’s more work to be done, but we’re committed to it.”
The RRDSSAB’s funding is part of a provincial investment which adds an annual $202 million to a pair of programs. From this amount, $190.5 million each year will be allocated to the Homelessness Prevention Program, while the remaining $11.5 million will be invested in the Indigenous Supportive Housing Program, which provides Indigenous-led, culturally-appropriate long-term housing solutions and support services to Indigenous people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
A press release from Minister Rickford’s office says the increased funding is “a result of a revised funding model that better reflects the current needs of individuals who are facing homelessness across Ontario.”
The release went on to say that “in addition to reducing costs in other sectors, supportive housing provides people in Ontario with an opportunity to live happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.”