Homeless Encampments in Thunder Bay: Growing Concerns and Potential Solutions

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Homeless Encampment on Simpson Street Near Donald Street
Homeless Encampment on Simpson Street Near Donald Street

Thunder Bay, ON – Thunder Bay along with many cities in North America, is currently grappling with a significant rise in homeless encampments across the city.

Nearly 60 tents have been set up at Kam River Park, with a similar number of tents lining McVicar’s Creek. This increase in visible homelessness is causing growing concerns among local businesses, homeowners, and residents.

The number of homeless encampments has increased in recent years, and so too has how the homeless camp out. Only a few years ago people camped out in backlanes and camped mainly under the stars. Now the process has moved to tent cities in parts of the city.

How it was in Thunder Bay

Rising Issues and Community Concerns

Local businesses in the Waterfront District are reporting an uptick in shoplifting incidents, attributing the increase to the nearby encampments. Homeowners are also experiencing theft, with items being taken from their yards. Additionally, there have been reports of damage to city property, further exacerbating the issue.

Homeless in Thunder Bay Where finding shelter in the foyer of a bank is a night's home.
Homeless in Thunder Bay Where finding shelter in the foyer of a bank is a night’s home.

Along Riverview Drive, another encampment is causing anxiety among residents. Parents of young children have expressed their fears, as one of the encampment’s occupants has been described as intimidating.

The New Homeless – Tent Cities

A Broader Perspective: How Other Cities Are Addressing Homeless Encampments

Homelessness and encampments are not unique to Thunder Bay. Many cities across Canada and beyond are facing similar challenges and are employing various strategies to manage the situation.

1. Vancouver:
Vancouver has adopted a multi-faceted approach, including providing temporary housing solutions and increasing mental health and addiction services. The city has also implemented a coordinated outreach program to connect homeless individuals with the resources they need.

2. Toronto:
Toronto has focused on expanding shelter capacity and opening additional respite centers. The city also deploys teams of outreach workers to engage with those living in encampments, offering services and alternatives to street living.

Toronto Faces a growing homelessness crisis, this image was captured of a person living under a bridge in downtown Toronto.
Toronto Faces a growing homelessness crisis, this image was captured of a person living under a bridge in downtown Toronto.

3. San Francisco, CA:
San Francisco has created designated camping areas with access to sanitation and basic services. These areas are monitored to ensure safety and provide a more organized approach to managing homelessness.

Potential Solutions for Thunder Bay

Addressing the issue of homeless encampments in Thunder Bay requires a comprehensive and compassionate strategy. Some potential solutions include:

1. Increased Shelter Capacity:
Expanding the number of shelter beds and creating more emergency housing options can provide immediate relief for those living in encampments. The federal and provincial government could assist Indigenous organizations with providing space. In Thunder Bay the old LPH building and grounds could be a venue to consider.

2. Outreach and Support Services:
Deploying outreach teams to engage with individuals in encampments can help connect them with housing, mental health, and addiction services. These teams can also provide essential supplies and support. Elevate is doing this work in the city, however there is obviously more work than the agency can handle. There are also many people and groups who are supporting the homeless. On the Northside of the city in addition to the Salvation Army, Elevate and smaller groups, perhaps the establishment of a food bank with weekly or even daily access could be established.

In addition, the Waverly Library which has become a place to gather in the northside of the city could have extended funding for opening longer hours?

3. Designated Camping Areas:
Establishing designated areas for camping with access to sanitation, water, and waste disposal can help manage encampments more effectively while ensuring the safety and dignity of those experiencing homelessness.

4. Community Collaboration:
Engaging local businesses, residents, and community organizations in developing and implementing solutions can foster a more inclusive and supportive approach to addressing homelessness.

5. City Council Engagement:

Thunder Bay City Council has for the most part while they almost to a person campaigned on the issue, have really not engaged directly. Council appears willing to rely on Administration and on committees who have been examining this issue for years. Perhaps instead of allowing binders of paper to dominate the discussion, it is time for Council members to engage directly in the real concerns people are expressing. Some members of Council were very active on social media in the past sharing all the good works and efforts, now it is a deep silence across the council on this key issue.

6. Solving the Root Causes:

Thunder Bay along with many cities across Canada and beyond in looking at the problems in the area of homelessness, seem to step over the root causes. Our social services agencies have built more bureacracy than working to solve the problem. Perhaps having social workers working directly in the homeless encampments, helping people find their path out of the despair, depression, addiction, and other problems often won’t come by asking the people in need to come to them. Getting out into the community is a great start.

7. Thunder Bay Police:

The police have a role to play. With the ebikes, officers could be making repeat visits into the encampments. When doing so while it is accurate that police are not designated as social services, that role appears increasingly to be a major part of their job. Getting with the people on a bike is seen often as far less threatening than a police unit. Perhaps working the social workers on bikes could be a way in? It is going to take innovation and better ideas for all cities and police services moving to solutions.

Conclusions

The rise in homeless encampments in Thunder Bay highlights the urgent need for coordinated action and compassionate solutions. By learning from other cities and adopting a multi-faceted approach, Thunder Bay can address the concerns of its residents while providing meaningful support to those in need.

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