The Sioux Lookout community will need to find a new operator for their emergency shelter in the coming months.

The Kenora District Services Board and the Board of Directors for Sioux Lookout’s Out of the Cold Shelter have announced that OOTC volunteers will be transitioning away from operating the shelter as of September 1.

“The Kenora District Services Board wants to acknowledge the hard work, compassion, and dedication of the Out of the Cold Shelter Board of Directors,” says Barry Baltessen, Board Chair of the KDSB.

“Their commitment over the last many years to ensuring vulnerable individuals have a safe, accessible place to be, and their support in assisting patrons with gaining independence from emergency services, has been instrumental in keeping many in need safe and supported in Sioux Lookout,” he adds.

Out of the Cold’s 28-bed shelter space in the old Queen Elizabeth High School at 15 Fair Street is open 24/7 for emergency accommodations, as well as between 9 a.m, to 4 p.m, daily for residents over the age of 16 needing a place to stay.

The not-for-profit organization with funding from the Kenora District Services Board transitioned into the school thanks to the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board due to COVID-19 requirements, as their former location wasn’t able to maintain social distancing requirements.

Out of the Cold also operates a food bank at their previous 25 Fair Street location, open Tuesdays through Saturdays between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Other services include referrals to addiction counselling and further community supports.

Out of the Cold’s Board of Directors note the decision was not made lightly, and they continue to have a collective vision for a sustainable shelter for the community.

“We are hopeful that a new service provider will be able to sustain the OOTC Shelter and guide it through the changes necessary to meet both the current and emerging needs of its patrons. Needs which we as a Board are not able to provide currently. We are grateful that KDSB is taking this action,” says Aileen Urquhart, Board Member of Sioux Lookout’s Out of the Cold.

Chief Administrative Officer for the KDSB, Henry Wall, says leadership is working closely with the board and their staff on a transition plan, and services aren’t expected to be affected by the change.

“We’re feeling fairly positive and confident that we’re going to have a good transition,” said Wall, in an interview with Q104 and DrydenNow, noting the board’s annual funding would continue with the new operator of the shelter.

“We’re very grateful and thankful for the many, many years that the volunteer board and staff have been able to do with the limited resources they’ve had, and the difference they’ve been able to make in the lives of people that need those supports.”

Wall notes this is a similar situation to the one that played out in Kenora, where in 2020, leadership of the Ne-Chee Friendship Centre gave notice that they would no longer operate Kenora’s Emergency Shelter and Service Hub at Knox United Church. In the months that followed, the KDSB was able to secure a new partnership with Kenora’s branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association to run the facility.

Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance has repeatedly lobbied provincial and federal governments to develop a permanent emergency shelter and social services hub in the Sioux Lookout area, to address a backlog of mental health and addictions concerns within his community.

Through the KDSB’s 2021 Homeless Enumeration Report, a one-day count of homeless individuals in each community in the Kenora district, the board reported a total of 36 individuals in Sioux Lookout who identified as homeless, but noted that number is likely to be much higher.