Windsor

'No regrets:' Ron Dunn reflects on his time leading the Downtown Mission

Rev. Ron Dunn, the executive director of the Downtown Mission in Windsor, is stepping aside from the role to take on a new position in Halifax.

Dunn is stepping down in early November to take on a new role in Halifax

Ron Dunn says he has 'no regrets' on what he did to help the city's homeless

16 days ago
1:27
As he steps away from the Downtown Mission, Ron Dunn talks about what he accomplished helping the homeless community and his tense relationship with the mayor's office. 1:27

Rev. Ron Dunn, the executive director of the Downtown Mission in Windsor, is stepping aside. And while his time at the helm of the organization was not without controversy, Dunn said he has no regrets.

Dunn will be taking on a role as the CEO of Hospice Halifax in Nova Scotia after working with the shelter for over a decade and serving as executive director since 2015.

Dunn made the announcement in a media release issued on Thanksgiving Monday.

"I love this place, I love the Mission. I love the people I work for, people experiencing homelessness and poverty," he said in an interview. "We see 1,100 people a day through various programs. So, when you think about the impact that the Mission has on daily lives, I'm super proud to have been part of that."

The Downtown Mission provides food, shelter and other services for those in need in Windsor. 

Ron Dunn is the executive director of the Downtown Mission. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Dunn's departure comes as the organization is in midst of a years-long process of finding a new location. The Mission sold its main location in 2019 and will be out of the space by no later than June 2022.

Dunn said if he has any misgivings about leaving at this time, it's that this work isn't done. Though, he also said that another leader would be in a better position to "get us over the last mile" due to his relationship with the city.

"Every decision I made, I made with love and I would do again, no regrets," he said.

"But it also has created this rift between, you know, me, and what seems to be the mayor's office, right? And Mayor [Drew] Dilkens and council, we all want the same thing, we're just going about it in different ways, and so I think, I hope, that this allows for some healing and allows for things to move on."

The Downtown Mission's main building at 664 Victoria Avenue in Windsor. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Last winter, as a COVID-19 outbreak hit the homeless community, Dunn clashed with city officials and temporarily reopened a shelter space in defiance of an order from public health.

Dunn said he'd do it again in a heartbeat, but regretted that it sparked further division.

Dunn said he was not pushed to step down — the board was reluctant to accept his resignation — but the move was best for him and his family, and ultimately the Mission.

Downtown Mission employee Chris Thibert praised Ron Dunn for expanding the Mission's capacity and services. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Chris Thibert, who's been an employee of the Mission for five years, said the organization has come a long way in recent years under Dunn's leadership.

"We used to have 30 guests, 40 guests sleeping on the floor here at the church, Ron brought sanctuary to us. People have nice beds to sleep on now," he said.

"We can accommodate more guests than we used to accommodate, obviously there's more programs and services than there ever used to be. We're getting people into recovery programs … getting people housed."

Rukshini Ponniah-Goulin is the director of development at the Downtown Mission. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Rukshini Ponniah-Goulin, director of development, said the organization is sad to see Dunn go and they wish him all the best. It has a strong team behind it to continue the work, she said.

"The work of the Mission, the mission of the Mission, does not change and all we do every day, it's for the best interest of those we serve," she said.

Dunn's last day at the Mission will be Nov. 5. The Mission's board will begin the search for a new executive director, the organization said in a statement.

With files from Peter Duck

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