Thunder Bay city council looks to double Shelter House funding

Thunder Bay's cash-strapped Shelter House has asked the city to double its contribution to help the city's homeless population in 2015.

Homeless shelter constantly full, staff having to turn people away, director Patti Hajdu says

Shelter House reports operating expenses have risen from $1 million in 2009 to $1.8 million in 2013. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Thunder Bay's cash-strapped Shelter House has asked the city to double its contribution to help the city's homeless population in 2015.

At its Monday night meeting, council was asked by the charitable organization for $500,000 to maintain the services it provides in the coming year. The city currently contributes $235,000.

Shelter House executive director Patty Hajdu didn't mince words when discussing the organization's financial reality.

Thunder Bay Shelter House executive director Patty Hajdu. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

“We can't continue to provide this level of services on the current level of funding that we get,” she said. “So the board would need to go back and determine what the priorities are.”

Without the funding increase, things like the managed alcohol program, daytime services, and a successful street outreach program could be cut, she said.

And the shelter is constantly full.

“We can no longer let people in based on first-come-first-serve,” Hadju continued.

“We are now going to have to look at who is most vulnerable, and this is an awful component of working at Shelter House.”

Operating expenses for Shelter House have risen from $1 million in 2009 to $1.8 million in 2013.

Training to deal with 'God moments'

Coun. Andrew Foulds, who also sits on Shelter House's board of directors, said Thunder Bay is at a crossroads on the issue.

“We can either do nothing and not increase our funding — and we heard what the consequences of that are — or we can actually do something.”

Thunder Bay city councillor Andrew Foulds. (Jody Porter/CBC)

He said investing in programs like those offered at Shelter House benefits the community as a whole.

“Nurses will be tied up less time, doctors will be freed up ... EMS will be freed up to take care of emergencies.”

Provincial funding for Shelter House is capped at $668,000 per year. Along with the city’s contribution, donations and fundraising revenue help with operations.

Hadju noted Shelter House will start training staff members in the fall to do vulnerability assessments, as they can no longer admit people on a first-come, first-served basis.

"As a matter of fact, I had a bit of a breakdown when I started saying that we have, what I call, ‘God moments,’ [determining] who gets to live and who gets to die ... at the end of the day,” she said.

Hajdu said the vulnerability assessment training will reduce the emotional burden on staff when making these assessments.

‘You don't want a super-shelter’

Coun. Aldo Ruberto spoke to the need for more affordable housing in the city.

"I know there's solutions being thought up or discussed, and they always seem to be discussed,” he said.

“Personally, I'm kind of disgusted listening to the discussions and not getting things happening."

Hajdu underscored the importance of having affordable housing available instead of increasing shelter capacity.

"I think that, what we really need to do, is invest in affordable housing, advocate for affordable housing, seek affordable housing, do whatever we need to do as a community for affordable housing,” she said.

“Because you don't want a super-shelter and, quite frankly, I don't think many citizens want that either."

City council is expecting a report back in December from administration as to where the extra Shelter House funding could come from.

Cold weather outreach program

City staff will also look at short-term funding options to start up the street outreach program again when the weather turns cold.

The program wrapped up in April, and there is no budget yet to continue it this coming winter.

It transported intoxicated and vulnerable people from the streets to places like Shelter House, or the hospital.

A Shelter House report says the program made almost 950 transfers in four months.


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