The controversial temporary closure of a five-month-old homeless shelter in Kenora, Ont., has been delayed one week while authorities scramble to find short-term housing for its vulnerable residents.
The impending closure of the city's only official shelter was announced unexpectedly at the end of July, when the Ontario government cited a necessary review of the facilities due to concerns about rising crime and drug use in the area. Neighbouring residents also raised concerns about the 44-bed facility.
The shelter’s overnight stays are expected to stop next week for about six weeks, while the community reorganizes how the hub’s services are delivered to people experiencing homelessness.
"I really doubt they will be able to find accommodations for everyone," said Patti Fairfield, executive director of the Ne-Chee Friendship Centre, which runs the shelter in the northwestern Ontario city of 15,000. "I wish they would just consider not closing it overnight altogether, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case."
Fairfield said she can’t deny the community has faced challenges since the shelter opened — including a fire that destroyed a housing complex, displacing residents — but she said she believes service providers could complete a necessary review without closing the facility’s doors at night.
Planned renovations inside the building could happen during the day, she added.
The $1.1-million government-supported service hub, which offers meals and overnight stays, started operating in March. Before it opened, the Anamiewigummig Fellowship Centre, which is funded in part by Winnipeg Presbyterian congregations, took on much of the responsibility for providing overnight stays.
The fellowship centre has been focusing on longer-term stays, its daily drop-in and other programs since.
"We are very concerned about the well-being of the many individuals who are facing much uncertainty in regards to food and shelter in the wake of the temporary closure of the service hub," states an Anamiewigummig post made on Facebook over the weekend.
The post states the centre’s drop-in services for breakfast and lunch will be available to community members, for the time being. Street patrol and outreach teams also started servicing community members Tuesday and will continue to do so until the shelter reopens permanently.
"Prayers for everyone as we move into this time of upheaval and hopefully a recentering," the post reads.
The pastor of Winnipeg’s Westwood Presbyterian Church and convener of the Winnipeg Presbytery outreach committee, which includes Kenora, has also put forward a call for Winnipeggers to provide support in any way they can while the facility is closed.
The MPP for Kenora—Rainy River, Greg Rickford of the PC Party of Ontario, did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.
Updated on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 at 9:36 AM CDT: Corrects cutline