A homeless shelter in Sioux Lookout is fighting for municipal funding, after its town council recently voted to discontinue supporting the Out of the Cold program.

Susan Barclay, who manages the Out of the Cold shelter, said the decision is based on misunderstanding. 

"There's a fear I think was portrayed ... that we're duplicating services," Barclay said.  "We're definitely not doing that.  We're providing a very unique service to a number of people who need it here in this community. Council, I don't think, understands how our partnerships are working."

Barclay said about 12 people use the shelter every night.

But unlike most Out of the Cold programs in Ontario, this one goes beyond providing a meal and a place to sleep. Staff also helps clients apply for housing, develop life skills and get addiction counselling.

Shelter funding

The Out of the Cold shelter has an annual budget of about $250,000.

Most of its funding comes from federal and provincial governments.

Sioux Lookout has provided some funding to the shelter for the last four years. Last year it gave the organization $10,000, four years ago the amount was $25,000.

Susan Barclay said if the shelter doesn't get council money, it will still maintain the shelter services, but will have to cut some of the additional support services (such as housing and life skills help) it provides during the day.

But Sioux Lookout mayor Dennis Leney says a reduction in services isn't a concern for him.

"A shelter should be a shelter," Leney said "And I don't think it should be anything else."

Leney said the program has plenty of money and is operating with a surplus.

Barclay acknowledged that the organization has money in the bank, but it's designated for an emergency fund and capital fund for repairs — repairs that are often necessary because it's an old building.

But the issue appears to be more than just money. The mayor said he’s heard complaints from Sioux Lookout residents who say that shelter citizens loiter downtown during the day.

"It seems that an awful lot have been here for an awful number of years," Leney said. "You get to see these people all the time downtown ... if this program is working so well why are they in the centre for two or three years?"

Barclay said if the mayor and councillors knew the hardships the shelter's clients face, they would be more sympathetic. She said she still hopes to change their minds — council has allowed Barclay to make a presentation at the next meeting on March 21.