Uncertain future for homeless in North Bay as shelter set to close July 7

The homeless shelter in North Bay is set to close July 7. Since mid April, the Pete Palangio Arena has housed the 24-hour COVID-19 Responsive Emergency Homelessness Shelter. But federal and provincial emergency funding has been exhausted.

Federal, provincial funding ending for operation of COVID-19 Responsive Emergency Homelessness Shelter

The Pete Palangio Arena in North Bay has bee the 24-hour COVID-19 Responsive Emergency Homelessness Shelter since mid April. It will close down July 7 after federal and provincial funding was exhausted. (Google Streetview)

The current homeless shelter in North Bay is set to close the morning of July 7.

Since mid April, the Pete Palangio Arena has housed the 24-hour COVID-19 Responsive Emergency Homelessness Shelter.

The low-barrier shelter was moved to the municipal arena to accommodate an increase in users and to allow for physical distancing. It sees an average of 30-35 people per night.

North Bay had two smaller overnight shelters run by other agencies, but both had to close due to COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 emergency homelessness shelter is able to operate because of federal and provincial emergency funding made available to municipalities at the start of the pandemic.

"The money has at this particular point, been exhausted," said city councillor Mark King, who chairs the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board. That board oversees housing needs for the city's vulnerable population.

North Bay city councillor Mark King is also the chair of the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board, which is responsible for housing the local vulnerable population. (Erik White/CBC )

That's the main reason for the upcoming closure, although King added that it will eventually return to being used as an arena once the COVID restrictions are lifted.

"We've been involved in an ongoing letter writing campaign both to the federal government — our MP and the minister responsible; along with the housing minister at the provincial level, asking for support to move forward," he said. 

They have not heard back from the upper levels of government.

"We still don't have a resolution for the new location," King said. "There are a couple of options that we have in play at this particular point." 

The board will meet and vote on a solution Monday afternoon.

"I'm sure...we will have an option that will allow a new facility to be open, and the process is to make sure that this particular facility is long term," King said.

Change in clientele

Part of that solution will include how to provide extra support to shelter staff to deal with more extreme cases.

King says they've seen a change in clientele staying at the shelter. More extreme cases of individuals with complex mental health and/or drug addiction issues are using the shelter housing.

"It requires some pretty technical support in order to keep [the shelter] safe, I guess is the best way to describe it." 

King says roughly two-thirds of the population within the shelter facility is "easy to manage"

"There's a third of that population that can be dangerous — I'll be very honest —  It's a constant issue for police," he said.

"It's complex, it's very hard to operate and it's extremely expensive to operate, but the reality is, that if we don't have these facilities in place they end up on the main streets of cities."

Transitional housing

The Nipissing social services board did receive news last week that it had received $1.2 million from the provincial government to provide 16-bed transitional housing.

Transition housing provides housing and support for people who are moving onto the next step after recovering from drug addictions or mental health issues. The housing includes support on site. 

King says this transition housing will be constructed in the former OPP building on Chippewa Street.

With files from Angela Gemmill


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