Winnipeggers — especially those who vacation in the Kenora area — are being asked to provide emergency help for homeless people in that northwestern Ontario city.
That’s the message from Peter Bush, pastor of Winnipeg’s Westwood Presbyterian Church and convener of the Winnipeg Presbytery outreach committee, which includes the city of Kenora. He said that city is facing a crisis following the impending closure of its new main shelter, which was run by the Nechee Friendship Centre.
"It was a complete surprise and caught us off guard," said Bush about the Ontario government’s unexpected decision to close the shelter for a 45-day review due to concerns about rising crime and drug use, including complaints expressed by neighbours of the shelter.
"People without homes need a place to go," he added, noting "now we are scrambling to figure out what to do."
Prior to the February opening of the new $1.1 million government-supported shelter, which provided meals and overnight accommodation, much of the responsibility for providing overnight stays for homeless people in Kenora fell to the Anamiewigummig Fellowship Centre, which has been supported by the Presbyterian Church since the mid-1960s.
In addition to grants from the national church, the Fellowship Centre receives support from Winnipeg Presbyterian congregations to the tune of $5,000 to $8,000 a year.
When the government opened the new shelter earlier this year, the Fellowship Centre ceased providing overnight accommodations, focusing instead on longer-term stays, its daily drop-in and other programs.
When the new shelter closes on Monday, the Fellowship Centre will provide breakfasts and lunches during the shutdown period, as well as showers and laundry, Bush said.
This will place a significant burden on the Fellowship Center, since no additional resources are being provided by the either the provincial or municipal governments to hire additional staff or for food or other services.
Finding support "will be challenging," Bush acknowledged. But he hopes Presbyterians and others in Winnipeg will step up to help.
Financial donations can be made by visiting the Fellowship Centre’s Go Fund Me page at https://www.gofundme.com/kenorafellowship. Cheques can also be mailed to 208 Water St., Kenora, Ont. P9N 1S4. Donations of food and clothing can be dropped of at the Centre.
Bush realizes that Winnipeg also has homeless people, and the needs here are also important. But he hopes Winnipeggers can be supportive both here and in Kenora, and "respond to the challenges of homelessness in gracious, respectful ways, be they in Kenora or Winnipeg."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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