Thunder Bay

More money, less racism needed to solve homelessness, homeless say

Some participants in Thunder Bay's second Point in Time homeless count say Thunder Bay treats its homeless better than many city's do, but much more needs to be done to prevent people from becoming homeless and to support those who already are.

Some participants in Thunder Bay's second homeless count said social assistance rates should be higher

Lakehead University social work student Rebecca Moore volunteered to administer surveys at Shelter House during this weekend's second Point in Time homeless count. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Some participants in Thunder Bay, Ont.'s second Point in Time homeless count say Thunder Bay treats its homeless better than many cities do, but much more needs to be done to prevent people from becoming homeless and to support those who already are.

"You need to give the homeless people who are on either welfare or disability more cash," said Nick Brooks, who told CBC he was filling out the survey in hopes that it would encourage politicians to "actually do something for once." 

Brooks had heard about the basic income pilot project currently underway in Thunder Bay, he said, which guarantees recipients a livable sum of cash each month with some strings attached — they are not, for example, protected from garnishment by creditors, as they are on social assistance — but he added he was disappointed it was only a pilot. 

"I hope it's more permanent," he said.

"If everybody on welfare or disability got close to $2,000 ... then I think buildings like the Shelter House and other things would be less chaotic. ... There would be fewer people."

People might also be less rebellious, Brooks said, adding that he's heard many people in town prefer to go to jail than sleep at the shelter. 

Shelter House resident Richard Thunder agreed with Brooks that the homeless simply need more money to survive.

"Financial support is very important," he said, noting people need it to pay for housing, clothes and food.

But financial assistance was not the only issue raised by homeless count participants. 

"There's a lot of racism," said Hallicynthe LaRiviere. "Because I'm Native Canadian, I'm having a hard time getting a place." 
"They say they'll get back to me. They give me all these excuses: 'Oh it's been rented out.' Meanwhile, I still see the ad in the paper or on the Internet, and then I phone back, and they say, 'Well, it's been taken.'"

Other times, she said, she'll go to look at an apartment and come away convinced that the landlord ruled her out as a tenant the moment he looked at her.

"I feel very upset about that because I am as equal as anybody else," she said.

Despite the challenges faced by homeless people in the city, some who spoke to CBC praised Thunder Bay for being more generous than many communities with the supports it provides.

Thunder Bay treats its homeless better than other cities, some say

"All across the rest of the country ... from what I've seen, there's no real services," Brooks said. "Not like how Ontario seems to care about its people."

At least in Thunder Bay, Brooks said, you won't go hungry, and you can usually find shelter, though Shelter House is sometimes overflowing. 

"I think it would be beneficial to a certain extent to maybe upgrade or extend the building that's currently active or maybe just use maybe an old school that's not being utilized in town here and convert it into a shelter house," Brooks said. 

Thunder too praised Thunder Bay for its treatment of the homeless, noting that he moved to town due to a health issue and receives transportation to his appointments. 

"They're very helpful, and they're there for you," he said. "They helped me out. Being here, for example, being here at Shelter House. ... They're very accommodating, and that's what I really appreciate." 

This year's Point in Time count was carried out by the Lakehead Social Planning Council, the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, and the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board.

In addition to the count, the agencies launched a registry week aimed at surveying the homeless to better understand their housing needs and, ultimately, to find them stable housing and supportive services.