Kenora city council taking a look at 24-hour community space

·4 min read

Kenora city council recently approved a motion to have administration begin looking into a 24-hour facility for people experiencing homelessness.

Coun. Kelsie Van Belleghem brought the motion forward, which was seconded by Coun. Bob Bernie.

The motion called on “housing and community partners to work in collaboration with one another and liaise with the city's community safety and well-being coordinator by committing to dialogue around feasibility of potential locations for a permanent 24-hour centre or community space in an accessible area to align current existing services and supports being provided as well as identify solutions to gaps in service.”

At the meeting, Van Belleghem said she wanted to be realistic about where Kenora was at as a community, and by being resourced as a hub.

"But in many facets and having gaps in those hub services has left the burden to fall on to many residents, business owners and community advocacy groups to fill in the gaps with without properly serviced low barrier spaces available," she said. "Our ATM vestibules are a warming shelter. The outdoors, businesses, and rec spaces are the washrooms, stoops and stairs are gathering places."

"I've heard the calls that the city needs to do something innumerable times. I want to balance our mandate and the resources available to us with the very real need in our community."

In an interview, Van Belleghem said the issue has been on her mind for a while. She mentioned a few deputations about the issue of people needing a space to go have come up at previous meetings.

She said due to the lack housing across the spectrum and the way the city is set up as a central hub for health, justice, and education, It's has to support a larger population than reflected by the actual property tax base.

“We do not have enough housing in our community,” she said. “I'm talking young professionals, I'm talking seniors, I'm talking low income, I'm talking everyone.”

“And when people don't have a place to go where they're safe and they're comfortable, our public spaces are being used. Obviously, there's larger systemic issues amongst other levels of government that impact us as well, but we are seeing an uptick and poverty and a growing in increase in our street community.”

She said also because Kenora is set up as a single tier municipality, there are responsibilities the city doesn't actually have direct control over; Where it pays levies to agencies to take care of them.

“We have done a really good job in the past of being very siloed and sort of pointing the fingers to other organizations we say, ’so and so is funded for this, so they should be taking care of it,’” she said.

“But I personally believe we as the elected new officials for the city should be the ones who are setting the strategic priorities for the City of Kenora. And that means that we should be making sure that we are being engaged, having open communication and relationships with all of our partners who directly impact our community.”

She said even everyone wants to work in silos, their actions impact everyone else.

“We need to make sure that we're working cohesively and we're working to make sure that everyone is addressing this together,” she said. “That was really the resolution that we wanted to come to as a council to make sure that everyone is aware in this community that we understand the impact of what we're seeing and that through the community safety and well-being coordinator through the community safety and well-being plan that we will be addressing this.”

“I am just trying to be realistic about where we are and by doing nothing or being passive about this, it's nothing is going to go away,” she said. “We need to make sure that we have a community that works for everyone and I'm always a firm believer in a rising tide raises all ships and if you make a community that works really well for and sort of pulls everyone up, then we all get to come up with it.”

The motion was carried by a unanimous vote at the meeting last Wednesday.

Van Belleghem said the city was still in process of hiring the community safety and well-being coordinator who would lead this effort.

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source