James Necanapenace from Grassy Narrows First Nation has been living on Kenora’s streets for roughly seven years and says that the basic necessity of housing is a dream for him.
“My last known fixed address would be the Kenora district jail or out on the streets,” says Necanapenace. “I wish I could have a place of my own. Hang my hat, call it home.”
APTN News met Necanapenace at a weekly evening program held by St. Alban’s Church in Kenora’s downtown, located directly across from an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment and down the road from the Fellowship Centre where many of these participants spend their days.
Necanapenace says he’s had his fair share of run-ins with the OPP, more recently when he was trying to find a place to warm up during a winter night.
He says he was in the vestibule of a seniors’ facility when the police were called.
“A lot of people go to these buildings that are open and accessible without breaking in, because it’s a heat source,” says Necanapenace. “A lot of us are stuck on the street… we’re only there for survival.”
Kenora’s unhoused community is in a daily struggle for rest due to the lack of options available for a proper night’s sleep, and the few possibilities that exist leave many out in the cold.
Not nearly enough beds, indefinite public bans, and drug restrictions have many people who are unhoused and/or use drugs left on the streets with nowhere else to go.
This is part two of APTN’s Kenora Unhoused series, which looks at the reality faced by many of the city’s unhoused community.
St. Alban’s Church provides meals and activities for participants on Friday evenings, and the temporary shelter from the cold climate allows Necanapenace to enjoy a chocolate popsicle while he shares his nightly routine of sleeping outside.
“[You] just gotta tough it out until the next day or until 8 a.m. Right now, for the winter I usually make a little fire, I’ll burn newspaper or whatever,” says Necanapenace, “make a little homemade shelter wherever you could, whether it’s cardboard boxes or a shopping cart on top of more cardboard boxes with some kind of tarp or blankets… anything you can do.”
His official option for a bed is the only overnight emergency shelter in the city which provides 44 beds for a population of roughly 250 unhoused people between the hours of 8:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
The issue is, except for prescribed medicinal marijuana, the shelter doesn’t allow drugs on its premises which many people carry.
APTN reached out to the Kenora Emergency Shelter for comment on their drug policy but didn’t hear back before posting.
Necanapenace tells us of one more place well-known in his community – the historic Kenricia Hotel.
Dominating the Kenora skyline, the Kenricia Hotel is a privately-owned hotel used for temporary lodging and provides a monthly rate for those needing an affordable housing option.
But as you walk the downtown sidewalk to its main door, you are met with a list of 111 banned people – most of which are unhoused.
APTN spoke with Kenricia Hotel owner, Fadel Chidiac but he declined an interview and wouldn’t clarify why the list is posted outside the hotel.
“Everybody that you see in here in this room or building today, everybody’s name would be on there,” says Necanapenace, in regards to the other unhoused people receiving a meal at St. Alban’s Church.
That doesn’t sit right for Dr. Jonny Grek, a physician with the Sunset Country Family Health Team who helps provide outreach and street medicine to people like Necanapenace.
He says the list targets the unhoused and creates more shame within a community already struggling with stigma.
“Every single person’s name is on that for the entire public to consume. So, if you’re on that list, you try to get a job or you try to go to a storefront that recognizes your name is on that list, you’re not going to receive service,” says Grek.
While Necanapenace isn’t on the list and is still a viable tenant for the establishment, another barrier comes up – money.
The current monthly price for the one-room hotel suite is $1,073, one of the more affordable options in the city but still far out of reach for many.
“Ontario Works only pays so much. Altogether I think I would only get [around $600] and that would be, that would be my rent included with basic needs,” says Necanapenace, “I’d still be like $300 of $400 short.”
Ontario Works currently provides a maximum amount of $733 including rent for a single person with no dependants.
Many advocates for housing in Kenora are looking at tiny homes, similar to the ones recently opened in Winnipeg for their unhoused population.
A 30-unit transitional housing facility is under development through a partnership between the Kenora District Services Board and Ontario’s Aboriginal Housing Services.
In 2019, the project brought over 20 complaints and a petition including 300 names in opposition to its location due to its proximity to residential areas and schools, according to KenoraOnline.
Out of options, for now, Necanapenace “faces the music” of the streets for another night.
“I’ve got my mother that lives here,” says Necanapenace, “[she] sneaks me in whenever she can, right? But then that still puts herself at risk [for eviction].”
“I’d rather me be out here on the street than my mom.”