‘They don’t have a home’: Kenora, Ont., shelter re-sets its focus

Jolene Banning
A downtown homeless shelter is getting ready to reopen its doors again full-time.

After being forced to close in August over community concerns, the homeless service hub has restructured its hours.

It now operates as an emergency shelter only – open every evening from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. – and will for the next three months.

More help will be available for shelter clients when it opens full-time in January, with the addition of life skills programming and counselling.

It will operate 24 hours a day at that time.

“We know there is a lot of services that could be used by our patrons but mental health and addiction seem to go hand-in-hand with the utmost need,” Patti Fairfield, executive director of the Ne-Chee Friendship Centre, which oversees the shelter.

“However, people have to be ready to want to be involved in programming and not everyone’s there.”

The hub was shut down after a heavy influx of drugs through downtown, in particular crystal methamphetamine.

Northwestern Ontario 

Steven Martin stayed at the shelter in the northwestern Ontario city for a few weeks.

He liked the facility, the workers and got to know some of the regulars, whom he said turned to substances “because they don’t have a home.”

Ne-Chee is working closely with partners to fill in some health care gaps clients of the shelter may need. Some partners include the Kenora branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and Kenora District Services Board.

It is also creating a memorandum of understanding with additional community partners to help address homelessness and addiction in the city.

“As much as some people work very hard to overcome their addictions, when you’re in a small town and those people you’ve associated with, it’s hard to break free,” said Fairfield.

But the homelessness issue remains – once you break free from addictions where do you go?

“Homelessness can affect anybody at any time and I always say a lot of people are one cheque away from becoming homeless,” added Fairfield, in an interview.

“Addiction can hit anyone at any time depending on life circumstances.”

The Kenora District Services Board says a 30-unit home is being built in partnership with Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services.

It will be staffed 24-hours-a-day with a mental health worker for its residents but won’t be an addictions treatment centre.

Meanwhile, as a ’60s scoop survivor, Martin understands all too well where trauma stems from and how it can lead to homelessness.

“I want to come back here and help a little bit,” he said.

“I want to take my money and help out the people – the ones that are homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol.”

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