The number of people needing a free place to sleep has outpaced funding for emergency shelters in northwestern Ontario, forcing shelters to consider which services they can afford to keep.

In Kenora, the Fellowship Centre will reduce the maximum stay from 10 to four nights, starting in August.

"We're trying to work with the patrons so that we're not going to be sending them out on the street with no place to go," said  executive director Yvonne Bearbull.

"It's a really hard decision. We're trying to be as supportive as we can. A lot of our patrons struggle with addictions because of the lack of being able to find a home."  As for clients who aren't eligible for Ontario Works, Bearbull said she doesn't know how the Centre will be able to support them now.

6 things to know about the Kenora Fellowship Centre:

  1. Emergency shelter, a daily drop-in centre and a boarding house.
  2. The only shelter in Kenora.
  3. Has 10-to-15 clients and 5-to-10 emergency shelter spots.
  4. Clients are mostly aboriginal, people on disability, pensioners, youths who have out-grown foster care, low income earners, and so on.
  5. Centre is forced to turn people away on a regular basis due to a lack of space.
  6. Centre has no accommodation for people who are intoxicated, and must turn them away.

The centre is also reducing operating hours for the summer.

Bearbull said she hopes to save more money by sharing services with other organizations in Kenora.

Fixed funding doesn't cover rising costs

In Thunder Bay, the demand for services is also increasing while funding for those services is not.

Shelter House in Thunder Bay serves 600 meals a day and, at night, staff put down 60 beds, even though the shelter only has appropriate room for forty.

"It's not like a revenue generating business where you can say, 'well, we're going to sell more widgets and therefore we're going to be able to buy more office space’," said Patty Hajdu, Shelter House executive director.

Fundraising is helping the facility to keep all its programs, she noted.

Similar to Kenora Fellowship Centre, the Shelter House at one time received provincial funding for every night each client stays at the facility, but now receives a fixed amount per month. That sum doesn't cover the rising costs, so the facility  does a lot of fundraising and tries to get project-specific grants, Hajdu said.

Hajdu noted reductions to services at the Kenora Fellowship Centre decision will "place a huge burden on ... the community, because, as people become increasingly desperate for the basic necessities of life, behaviours get equally desperate."