Sudbury

As winter approaches, fears heighten for people in Sudbury with no permanent home

Access to housing remains a major issue for people experiencing homelessness in Sudbury as temperatures drop and winter approaches.

Emergency shelter can't accommodate current numbers in northern Ontario city's downtown

Memorial Park, located in downtown Sudbury, Ont., has been the site of tent encampments for the last year. With colder weather setting in, individuals who support the city's most vulnerable people fear there won't be enough room for them in shelters. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

Access to housing remains a major issue for people experiencing homelessness in Sudbury as temperatures start to drop and winter approaches.

Individuals who support the city's most vulnerable people have said the opioid crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of affordable housing across Ontario have combined to create a difficult situation for people with nowhere permanent to live.

"I think broadly, there are not enough shelters to help people these days," said Cindy Rose, the Canadian Mental Health Association's shelter services manager in Sudbury. "But I'm not sure that we will ever have enough shelters because the whole goal is to get people housed."

Rose said her organization, which manages the Off the Street Emergency Shelter in downtown Sudbury, has had to turn people away every night since it opened in early October.

It is one of four emergency shelters and warming centres located in the city's downtown core. Only one, Cedar Place, a centre for women and families, is open 24 hours a day. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Greater Sudbury has seen tent cities expand throughout the downtown core, most notably in Memorial Park and the surrounding areas.

Opioid crisis and a pandemic

On Oct. 2, a 28-year-old man died suddenly in the Memorial Park encampment; on Oct. 20, a 32-year-old man also died in the park.

On Oct. 13, Public Health Sudbury and Districts announced there was a COVID-19 outbreak in the park, and encouraged anyone who had spent time there to get tested. 

But despite potential exposure to COVID-19, and the opioid epidemic, Rose said the city's shelters cannot accept everyone who lives in the encampments.

"You know, the opioid crisis is here in full force and some people are just not able to comply with some of the requirements of shelter living," she said. "So that is their decision not to come into the shelters because there are some rules they know they can't necessarily comply with."

Evie Ali is co-founder of a Sudbury non-profit organization called the Go-Give Project, which manages a needle exchange program in the city.

She said some individuals intend to live in their tents throughout the winter, and have no intention of accessing city shelters.

"It's really quite impressive how sustainable some of these encampments have become, especially the ones that aren't localized downtown as far as their plans go," she said.

Ali said a comprehensive approach that would include better access to mental health services and affordable housing is needed to help vulnerable people. 

"Once we have these individuals in their homes, they do feel that it would be essential to have some sort of wellness check program or followups with them just to sort of see where they're at, see what they need." 

Ali said that without proper mental health support, to go alongside affordable housing, many clients relapse and end up living on the streets again after a few months. 

We're still living through a drug poisoning crisis that is disproportionately affecting people who are unhoused Indigenous people.- RJ Gardner, member of  Réseau ACCESS Network

RJ Gardner, a member of the Sudbury-based outreach team Réseau ACCESS Network, echoed not enough support is in place to address the systemic issues that lead to homelessness and drug addiction.

"We're still living through a drug poisoning crisis that is disproportionately affecting people who are unhoused Indigenous people," he said. "We're seeing that every day ... so it's challenging. 

Réseau ACCESS Network primarily supports individuals with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and related health issues.

Gardner said homelessness is on the rise across Canada, and both the causes and solutions are complex.

While exact numbers on homelessness are difficult to pin down, there have been reports in many communities that "visible homelessness" is on the rise as tent encampments have become more common across Canada.

RJ Gardner, of the Sudbury-based outreach team Réseau ACCESS Network, which supports individuals with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and related health issues, says the causes of and solutions to homelessness are complex. (Supplied by RJ Gardner)

To help address the issue, the City of Greater Sudbury hired homelessness consultant Iain De Jong to address its challenges and find ways to deal with the various tent encampments.

De Jong issued his report to city council on Oct. 12, and said it's best for people to leave encampments voluntarily and have a more co-ordinated approach when offering services to vulnerable groups.

With files from Warren Schlote

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