Kenora's only emergency shelter is raising some eyebrows with its latest effort to stay afloat.
Clients can stay seven days a month for free. After that, they pay $15 a night.
"There's been a lot of mixed reaction. Right now it's the emergency shelter that's causing us to be in deficit and we have to be very mindful of that,” said Yvonne Bearbull, the director of the Kenora Fellowship Centre.
“[We’re] trying to balance the community demand with the funds that we do have. We want to try to keep our doors open as long as we can," she said. "More so with winter coming."
There are some people who have been staying at the shelter for years who do pay room and board, but that is separate from their emergency shelter. The new policy applies to the emergency shelter.
In January the Kenora District Services Board started funding the shelter at a monthly flat rate of $7,000 — an amount that isn't enough to keep all services going.
Bearbull said the shelter is being lenient and trying not to turn people away. They opted to charge $15 per night because it's a median between what Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program pays for room and board.
‘They can freeze to death’
But the communications chair for the anti-homelessness group Making Kenora Home said he's concerned about the new charge because "people who are living on the street are living there for a reason.
"Coming up with [what] works out to about $345 a month is going to be very difficult, if not impossible for some of them,” Dan Jorgensen said, adding that turning people away shouldn’t be an option.
"It's going to be dangerous for some of the people living on the street. “If they can't come up with $15 and they can't find a place to sleep, well, they can suffer frost bite, they can freeze to death."
For his part, Jorgensen said he plans to start a monthly donation to the shelter and hopes others will follow suit.
On the Making Kenora Home Facebook page, people have started a grassroots fundraising effort. People like Jorgensen are pledging to donate $15 a month for 6 months.
In one post on the site, someone asked why the shelter hasn't started a fundraising campaign of its own. Bearbull said staffing has been tight, but the shelter did recently hire a new fundraising co-ordinator.
"We're really thankful that the community has been this supportive, and wanting to help,” Bearbull said.
She added the shelter’s board has not closed the door on this issue. With winter coming, the free stay could be extended by 10 or 14 days. The board will re-visit the issue at a meeting at the end of November.
"We know it causes a hardship and we've tried our best to deal with people with different situations,” Bearbull said. “If they come into the shelter and they're not able to make the arrangements they need to, we've been lenient in a number of ways … It's not as cut and dried as it sounds.”