BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
While the Red Lake Emergency Shelter gears up to open its doors after a temporary summer shutdown, the shelter’s board is worried its bank account is going to dry up during one of the coldest months of the year.
Board members Colin Meekis and Jolene Litwin both say the shelter is grateful for the money it’s received from Goldcorp, the Municipality, as well as from private donors (including two local children who gave up their birthday money) and fundraisers, but with a staff of six and a list of bills to pay, they say the money they received this year is going to last another two months maximum once the shelter reopens on Oct. 15.
According to Meekis, there are three main reasons times are particularly tough for the shelter this year.
First, the United Way grant the shelter usually gets didn’t come through. On top of it, the Trillium Foundation – another funding partner – has started to favour specific programs over general operational costs.
And while Meekis says a detox program, for example, would benefit Red Lake, the shelter doesn’t have the appropriate staff to run it and hiring and training that staff would result in additional costs. Even the money necessary to send the shelter’s residents to detox centres in Kenora or Dryden requires money for transportation the shelter doesn’t have.
Second, Bill 168 – the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act passed by the Ontario government in 2009 –has meant the shelter has had to double up on staff in evenings from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. when people are coming to the shelter in large numbers to sign up for a bed for the night.
Third, the province changed its funding model for social housing and homelessness last year. Whereas both received separate funding in the past, they’re now pooled together. As a result, the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB) – responsible for distributing provincial funding – now pays a lump sum rather than a per diem for the shelter’s regulars, like it used to.
“There’s no money in shelters – provincial or federal,” says Meekis. “There’s been money for homelessness prevention but as far as money to keep shelters open, it’s just not there.”
“If there’s no money in homelessness and no money in emergency shelters, who’s responsible for those people?”
While Meekis says unanticipated funding does “fall from the sky unexpectedly” at times (the KDSB, for example, just donated $10,500 left over from its social housing and homelessness budget), he says he doesn’t expect anymore funding grants or government funding to come through before April 2014.