Thunder Bay – OPINION – The chair and president of the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board have released a statement on National Housing Day:
“National Housing Day is held annually on November 22 to recognize the important work done by partners across Canada to improve access to housing. In recognition of this day, The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board would like to celebrate the successes in providing community and affordable housing, but also address the gaps in the system that make this work an uphill battle.
“In recent months, housing has been a regular topic in Thunder Bay media. Not only has homelessness been in the spotlight, but recent incidents in community housing properties have been making headlines. Unfortunately, until our District has more transitional and supportive housing available, the housing and homelessness sectors will continue to be underserviced because of gaps in the system.
“The existing community housing system cannot alone provide the needed supports to individuals who are not ready for independent living. When an individual needs additional supports, lack of resources means they may have to choose between independent housing or homelessness. So, we house them where we can with the resources we have. Because even though this is not the ideal solution, it is the right thing to do.
“In many cases, tenants are able to achieve self-sufficiency in independent living situations by accessing community supports. Unfortunately, in other cases, vulnerable tenants who have no choice but to live independently face challenges that they may not be able to overcome. In addition to the lack of support for mental health and addictions, these tenants are more vulnerable to home takeovers and criminal activity. This in turn compromises the safety and quality of life other tenants and neighbours. This issue is not unique to community housing, and has impacted private sector landlords as well.
“TBDSSAB has 2,500 direct-owned housing units, housing more than 4500 people across the district. The vast majority of our tenants are law-abiding, good people who just want to live their lives in peace. Unfortunately, this peace gets disrupted by incidents involving neighbours who would be better served if housed in a supportive environment. These events lead to properties being in the spotlight, and the tenants who live there feeling criminalized and dehumanized. To make matters worse, if a tenant is evicted because of the decisions they made because they were lacking supports, it often leads to homelessness.
“This is a vicious cycle that could be broken through investments in transitional and supportive housing.
“Capital funding is needed to create transitional housing units, with long-term investments in operating costs. It is disappointing that there were no initiatives funded anywhere in our District through the federal Rapid Housing Initiative. We also cannot overstate how unfortunate it is that the Junot Avenue youth transitional housing project in Thunder Bay is on hold due to a lack of funding, despite the need for more culturally appropriate transitional housing in Thunder Bay.
“The National Housing Strategy has fallen short for Northwestern Ontario. We have neither benefited, nor seen an impact in our District. The Urban Indigenous Housing Strategy that was promised several years ago has not been delivered. An Urban Indigenous Housing Strategy, and an appropriate affordable housing allocations to First Nations, would go a long way toward supporting homelessness in our District.
“This National Housing Day, we want to express our gratitude to the people and organizations who have done their best in the housing sector despite the challenges. As a community housing provider, we are mandated and funded to provide housing. However, we are also not the typical landlord. We are dedicated to providing additional supports whenever possible while respecting our tenants journey toward self-sufficiency. Being there for our tenants requires partnerships with community mental health organizations. We are grateful for the community partners that help fill the gaps left by a lack of supportive housing options, and encourage others to connect with us if they would like to be part of the solution.
“Finally, we can assure you that TBDSSAB will continue to advocate for long term solutions and the best possible outcomes for the people in our district.”
Lucy Kloosterhuis, Chair, TBDSSAB
William (Bill) Bradica, CAO, TBDSSAB