The majority of individuals experiencing homelessness in the Cochrane district are Indigenous, says a local homelessness advocate.
At the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (CDSSAB) meeting last month, Iain De Jong was back to talk to members. He’s the president of OrgCode Consulting Inc., a company that works with a variety of organizations to prevent, reduce and end homelessness.
De Jong is also the former manager of Streets to Homes in Toronto, which provides street outreach and housing-related follow-up support to help people who are experiencing homelessness and sleeping outdoors to find and keeping housing.
In 2021, the CDSSAB hired De Jong to help develop its plan to end homelessness by 2025.
His report — An Updated Plan and Investment Strategy for Homelessness Prevention Program Funding in the Cochrane DSSAB — was recently released and includes six recommendations for the board to consider.
They include supportive housing; a service hub with food, hygiene facilities and service navigators; housing loss prevention; a paramedic integrated with street outreach, shelter and housing support services; transitional housing; and Indigenous-led scattered site follow-up support and reunification services.
The recommendations come with a big price tag.
The initiatives add up to a total of more than $11 million over the three years, not including ongoing annual funding or recommendations beyond the plan’s term. None of the suggestions have been approved.
Releasing a three-year path to end homelessness by 2025 now, in 2023, puts the end date beyond the original target, which the CDSSAB has been touting for years.
In an interview with TimminsToday, CDSSAB communications manager Cameron Grant said it’s important to note that when they say ending homelessness, they mean to make homelessness extremely rare.
“And should it occur, that it happens at a very short period of time,” he said.
CDSSAB serves Timmins, Iroquois Falls, Cochrane, Moosonee, Matheson, Smooth Rock Falls, Kapuskasing and Hearst.
It’s one of 47 service managers in Ontario administering provincial funding targeted to prevent and end homelessness.
CDSSAB has received a boost in funding from the provincial government for the Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP), going from $2 million per year to $6 million per year.
According to De Jong, 78 per cent of households experiencing homelessness that want help with housing and support are moderate or high acuity. The average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment unit in Timmins is $942, which is up 23 per cent from five years ago when the average was $769. He said the monthly average of Ontario Works cases is almost $1,800.
Four out of five people currently experiencing homelessness in the region identify as Indigenous. Of the people experiencing chronic homelessness on the by-name list, 76 per cent identify as Indigenous.
The plan would include culturally appropriate support services for people exiting homelessness, along with services that can help people reunite with family or friends in other communities when it’s safe and appropriate to do so.
Grant said this recommendation is their number one priority.
He said it would involve connecting elders, knowledge keepers, medicine people, as well as land-based teachings and cultural practices, as well as access to counselling to help through present-day and historic traumas.
“It’s no shock that there’s a high statistic of Indigenous people experiencing homelessness in the area. Having those critical partnerships to ensure that there are truly land-based and cultural components that are integrated into those services is vital to seeing successful outcomes,” he said.
With an insufficient number of restrooms, shower and laundry facilities, De Jong’s report also recommends a service hub.
The options he laid out for this are revamping the current Living Space so it can offer more day services, repurposing or renovating an existing building in or near downtown to act as a service hub, or building a new service hub in or near downtown Timmins.
The supportive housing recommendation is to have permanent affordable housing with on-site support 24/7 to serve households with the highest needs. This could include chronically homeless individuals with co-occurring support needs and barriers, often related to physical health, mental health, or addiction.
If this plan were to be pursued, De Jong said $4.4 million across years one and two of the HPP would be used to create at least 10 units of supportive housing in Timmins. It also suggests creating an additional 40 units of supportive housing within five years of the initial 10 being created.
With the demand for rent-geared-to-income housing across the district surpassing the number of available units, there’s a also growing waitlist there.
Having a paramedic integrated with street outreach, shelter, and housing support services would include one or more paramedics partnered with street outreach, shelter, service hub and housing services, De Jong said. It would also entail the integration of paramedicine services, not a new stand-alone paramedicine program.
De Jong said this approach should decrease demands on EMS, other first responders and the hospital in Timmins.
If this was the approach chosen by the board, De Jong recommended developing a robust paramedicine program to integrate with other service providers in the CDSSAB, as well as allocating $250,000 annually for staffing and operation costs starting in the third year of the plan.
Timmins Police offers a similar program through its mobile crisis rapid response teach, which is done through a partnership with Timmins and District Hospital.
The CDSSAB uses a by-name list to help track the number of people experiencing homelessness.
At the end of August, there was a total of 272 names on the list. The number of those experiencing chronic homelessness — meaning they’ve been experiencing homelessness for a period of six months in the past 12 months or 18 months in the past 36 months — was 147.
While there are a number of reasons why someone may no longer be listed as homeless on the BNL, CDSSAB said total move-ins for all homelessness throughout the entirety of 2023 has been 103 and total move-ins for chronic homelessness has been 47.
According to CDSSAB, move-ins are either through support from the system of care, support from other community service providers, or independently by the person or family.
Read the full plan here.
By Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative
Original Published on Oct 05, 2023 at 13:08