Adjustments helped Timmins meet needs of homeless

‘Large number of people requiring support became more visible’ as a result of pandemic

Article Sidebar

Article content

COVID-19 forced some changes to programs and hours of services for the homeless in the area.

Those changes helped Living Space accommodate an influx people seeking shelter.

Jason Sereda, executive director at the Living Space, explained, there was an increase in the demand for shelter due to evictions from rental outlets, treatment facilities and group homes.

Staying overnight with friends or couch surfing were no longer options amid fears of a spreading virus.

Sereda said it forced Living Space to add two additional shelter sites with programs and staff.

“Due to physical distancing and health and safety requirements imposed by the pandemic, we were required to adjust our services to meet demand and changes,” he explained. “We responded early March by establishing protocols to decrease risk of exposure/transmission amongst guests, staff and volunteers.

“This included expanding to Northern College to create 30 units for physical distancing and isolation sites, and expanding to the McIntyre Arena to create an emergency shelter that could accommodate up to 100 people with the proper spacing in place.”


Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

He said Living Space partnered with the Porcupine Health Unit to ensure testing was available to all guests and staff/volunteers who required or requested it.

“While service demand absolutely increased due to people being cut off from supports during a time of crisis, overall the community did not see an increase in the number of people who are homeless.

“Instead, the large number of people requiring support became more visible. People who were couch surfing or accessing treatment or other group home environments were discharged into homelessness. We also saw an increase in the number of people being discharged from provincial institutions into homelessness with little advance coordination.”

Brian Marks, chief administrative officer at the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board, said, before the start of the pandemic, Living Space was accommodating 25 to 30 people per night. When the pandemic, they were providing additional spaces to 30 people at Northern College and 25 to 30 people a night at the McIntyre Curling Club.

Sereda explained, “The city and the McIntyre Restaurant have been fantastic partners in ensuring access and support for people who are homeless. We have reduced the hours at the site to overnight emergency shelter only 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. as of Aug. 1 but continue to provide outreach support around the McIntyre Arena throughout the day.

“These changes were done as part of the province and Timmins moving into Stage 3 of reopening, and to address funding shortfalls required to maintain all three sites.”


Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

The Living Space’s main location on Cedar Street North will be available for services but in a limited capacity as it continues to follow COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

“As the McIntyre site remains open daily for emergency shelter support, outreach workers assist people in the morning and evening with transitioning from the location and with ensuring people have access to resources.”

While Northerners have traditionally viewed homelessness as a problem of large urban centres in Southern Ontario, Sereda said Timmins (1.7 per cent of population) and Cochrane District (2.37 per cent) have a disproportionate number of people who are homeless compared to the national rate (0.6 per cent) and other Northern Ontario districts (Kenora District 1.08 per cent, Manitoulin District 0.92 per cent, Thunder Bay 0.32 per cent).

Adding to the challenge is the fact Cochrane District ($648 per individual) receives disproportionately less funding per homeless individual than other districts (Kenora $3,870, Manitoulin $5,076, Thunder Bay $7,474, Windsor/Essex $48,876/individual), Sereda added.

“Homelessness in Timmins is characterized as largely affecting Indigenous people (68 per cent) with a high amount of people chronically homeless (19 per cent) and living unsheltered (28.4 per cent) and a larger percentage hidden homeless (42.9 per cent).

“Despite these challenges, Living Space has demonstrated success by working collaboratively with our partners at the city, Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (CDSSAB), Northern College, and Canadian Mental Health Organization (CMHA). Also, the ‘Housing Now’ project aimed at rapidly housing the people from Northern College was a success and moved 28 people from living on the street to being housed with supports in just 60 days,” he said.

Marks explained, “Through the Housing Now program we have been able to house the 30 people who were staying at the Northern College residence, which is a great news but two challenges remain: Keeping those people housed by providing the support services that they require and second providing shelter or housing to the 30 homeless people who have been staying at the curling club.”