West Nipissing council address homelessness in region

There are people living on the streets in Sturgeon Falls, and council recently addressed the issue. Solutions are difficult to come by, but council and municipal staff are working with the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB) to come up with options.

“We can’t carry on this way, we have to find a solution,” emphasized West Nipissing Chief Administrative Officer, Jay Barbeau. He noted that during his 23 years as CAO, “this is the first time I’ve had to delve into this subject matter,” as the municipality, “other than in the last few years, has not seen visible homelessness.”

A local grass roots group, No More Tears, has been advocating for the local homeless population. Organizers of the group noted that recently, the homeless population numbers in the early 20s, and until recently had established a small tent city in an empty parking lot off Coursol Road.

See: Cold winter coming for Sturgeon Falls’ homeless

That encampment has since been removed, as the by-law officer was “responding to complaints of trespassing,” Barbeau noted, adding that “he didn’t feel very good about that either.”

Indeed, the issue weighed heavily on council and staff. Barbeau emphasized that “one person living on the street is not acceptable to me.” Recently, Barbeau met with representatives from DNSSAB and other community agencies to discuss strategies.

He said there needs to be more coordination between agencies to create “a systemic approach to how we’re dealing with the issue.”

Shelters are available in North Bay, but members of No More Tears noted that often those shelters are full. Plus, it can be difficult to make the trip from Sturgeon Falls to North Bay for a shelter stay.

“We’ve been working very hard to advocate with DNSSAB for how to serve the people who are in need in our community,” noted Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon. She reminded all that DNSSAB receives funding from the province to address social issues such as homelessness within the region, and it “determines the programs and services” to best serve the area.

“We’re really stuck,” she added. “We’re not the provincial or federal government where we can spend more than we make. We have the money we have, and that’s it. There are no instant fixes here.”

DNSSAB has reached out to accommodation partners in West Nipissing, the Mayor clarified, “and they have not been able to find any private sector accommodation partners willing to participate in emergency shelter program here.”

What’s next? Barbeau and the Mayor plan to meet again with DNSSAB soon, “and make our point with what our expectations are of DNSSAB for West Nipissing,” the CAO said. “We need to find a solution sooner than later.”

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,