THUNDER BAY – Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is appealing to the government to save an emergency shelter in Thunder Bay from being forced to cut its Street Outreach Service (SOS) program.
Effective April 1, 2017, the shelter will be suspending the SOS program due to a $200,000 shortfall in funding. The program is a mobile service that helps people who lack housing, are publicly intoxicated, or are living in encampments, providing them with food, shelter, transportation, and addictions counseling.
“Shelter House provides a crucial service for the community,” said Thomas. “This shelter helps get people off the streets, and it has reduced pressures on local EMS and police services. The entire community benefits from this shelter.
“I saw this first hand when I visited Shelter House about six years ago,” he continued. “I walked the halls; I saw people being helped in the ways they needed it. Services like the ones provided by SOS help people before they reach a crisis point and need more acute care.”
The cuts mean a number of layoffs, but Thomas recognizes how hard it is for everyone. “It’s clear everyone is upset over this. We need the municipal and provincial governments to step in and provide the necessary funding to maintain the SOS services.”
Shelter House of Thunder Bay provided shelter to 928 individuals for a total of 20,352 bed stays in 2016. The SOS program provided 4,923 transports, and gave out 21,696 amenities such as blankets, coats, food, and water to homeless people in need.
OPSEU represents approximately 60 members at Shelter House in Local 738. Members provide outreach, transportation, addictions support and counselling, and residence support to people in Thunder Bay.