Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay's Shelter House looks for stable funding for street outreach as SOS program resumes

Officials with Shelter House in Thunder Bay, Ont., as well as the Lakehead Social Planning Council say, now that the shelter's street outreach program is back up and running, finding stable funding is the key next step.

SOS program restarted in August after fundraising efforts and donations raised over $150K

With Shelter House's street outreach program back on the streets, officials are now trying to secure permanent funding. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

Officials with Shelter House in Thunder Bay, Ont., as well as the Lakehead Social Planning Council say, now that the shelter's street outreach program is back up and running, finding stable funding is the key next step.

"We are very grateful to everyone who has supported the program and we are just looking to work to make it sustainable on a 12-month-a-year basis," said Gary Mack, the executive director of Shelter House.

The street outreach services initiative runs from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., seven days-per-week, Mack said. Staff in a van marked with the shelter's logo respond to reports of homeless, intoxicated and other at-risk people on the streets and transport them to appropriate services in the city, whether it be the hospital, a detox facilty or a shelter.

Staff may also hand out food, blankets, harm reduction supplies and other necessities.
Gary Mack is the executive director of Shelter House in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Amy Hadley / CBC)

The program originated in late 2013 as a pilot program for the cold-weather months, but from 2014 until April 1, 2017, it ran year-round, using funding from the city, the district social services administration board (DSSAB) and shelter reserve funds.

In April, when the reserves ran dry, the program was put on hiatus and Shelter House appealed to the community for donations. Over $150,000 was raised by mid-August, shelter officials said and the program was able to restart.

While the city and DSSAB funding guarantees the street outreach initiative will run during the cold-weather months, the fundraising provided enough money to run the program until August, 2018, Mack said, but efforts are underway to find a more stable source of money.

"I think the program is an easy sell [for funding]," said Bonnie Krysowaty, the social planner at the Lakehead Social Planning Council, whose poverty reduction strategy committee is also exploring funding options for street outreach. "But I think funding is just not an easy thing to secure, especially permanent funding for a program."

Permanent funding generally comes from government, whether it be municipal, provincial or federal, she said.

'People now are safer' shelter head says

While Mack said Shelter House doesn't yet have call volume statistics for the month since the outreach program resumed, anecdotally, he said "we just kind of started ... where we left off."

"The calls have been coming in right away," he said.  "We get lots of calls from businesses, from the hospital, from police and from concerned citizens that see people that are in crisis in the community."

"What it's meant to our community is that people now are safer."

Mack said shelter officials are "optimistic" funding can be found.

Krysowaty said she feels that the program's wide-ranging benefits — from partnerships in the community, including those with emergency services and other service organizations, to potentially-life-saving transfers in the winter — should help when it comes to applications.