Henry Wall at the Kenora District Services Board says they're working with the all nations health partners, in an effort to help those still living in tents, because they have no other place to go.
"We've seen and are seeing a significant number of people that have been displaced in the community that may have come to the community and are stuck in a way, but also just with respect have no place to go and we start looking throughout the community, there are a number of people that are living in tents and that is very concerning for us," he said.
Wall is the chief administrative officer for the services board, as well as the co-chair for the All Nations Health Partners, and noted the impact of COVID-19 on support programs, as well as displaced people in the area. He added community partners have seen the situation coming through the summer months.
"It does sound dire, but at the same time I've not seen in recent memory community organizations and communities coming together as they have to work in true partnership. I think there is a sense of hope we are going to provide those supports that people need throughout the winter months, but it's taking a bit of time to get there," he added.
Wall says they're considering immediate measures, so that those in need don't succumb to the elements. These options include leasing hotel rooms -- or even a hotel -- with provisions for wrap-around supports.
During the pandemic, the repurposing of facilities has already been considered, Wall agreed, adding he hoped to have a more formal response in a week or so. As partners prepared for the first wave of the coronavirus, the Keewatin Memorial Arena was renovated, so it could house those who needed to self-isolate but had nowhere to go. There were also plans for the rec centre in Kenora.
A deputation before city council in Kenora Tuesday estimated 50 people were living in encampments in the area, and presenter Marlene Elder emphasized there was the possibility the cold weather could take somebody's life, if warm places for them to stay couldn't be found.
Wall agreed people were living in the rough and they needed help, and he repeated the importance of groups working together for a resolution. The CAO also suggested the number may be a bit lower than 50.
Since new housing construction is being planned for next spring, Marlene Elder from the grassroots organization called Moving Forward Kenora suggested these people could find shelter this winter in:
- the Northland,
- the old OPP station or
- motel rooms.
Moving Forward Kenora was created following the loitering issue last summer.
On Thanksgiving Monday dinner at Jubilee Church served about 90 people.
In yesterday's interview, Wall also agreed the situation was reminiscent of the Dirty Thirties, when unemployed people were forced to travel from community to community in search of opportunity.
At the same time, the CAO agreed the pause and reset offers opportunities, as construction projects on the planning board provide for employment options at the end of treatment programs, so there is a pathway from Housing First to job opportunities.
"The community will feel it and see the difference," he said.
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