Thunder Bay City Council Revisits Homeless Encampments Proposal

Part of the encampment on Donald Street East
Part of the encampment last summer on Donald Street East

Thunder Bay – POLITICS – The controversial issue of Thunder Bay’s growing homeless situation was debated at City Council last night.

It is an issue that is a growing concern for many residents as tent encampments are surfacing all over the city. There are areas, like the encampment south of Cumberland Street North where Elevate has land that they have supported encampments.

However Kam River Park, the Horseshoe Park, the pathways along McVicar’s Creek, and other spots around the city are also the sites of these impromptu campsites.

After a heated three-hour debate, Thunder Bay City Council decided to amend the designated homeless encampments report. The revisions included removing a reference to a vacant city lot proposed for a potential pallet village and adding guidelines regarding distancing measures.

There appears no interest in working with Ontario and using the property where the former LPH is located near Boulevard Lake.

The debate featured two deputations from local residents, one of whom was a former city councillor. Andre Gagne, the first debutant, expressed strong opposition to the idea of designated encampments. When councillors asked for alternative suggestions, Gagne proposed connecting unhoused individuals with mentors to provide hope and support.

Thunder Bay Councillor at Large Aldo Ruberto
Thunder Bay Councillor at Large Aldo Ruberto

The second deputation came from former councillor Aldo Ruberto, acting chair of the Fort William Business Improvement Area (FWBIA). Ruberto highlighted that the FWBIA was not consulted about using the Viscount parking lot as a possible site for a pallet village, learning about the proposal only through the news.

Ruberto described the reaction as “quite chaotic” and warned that this move could ultimately harm the city. Instead, Ruberto urged the council to support existing service providers.

The downtown Fort William BIA has seen a number of the local businesses close over the past years, as well as two banks close as well. Victoriaville remains standing despite years of decisions to knocking down the aging elephant. This puts increased pressure on the area as it is more difficult to attract people to the area.

Proposal Adjustments and Public Consultation Concerns

Councillor Trevor Giertuga suggested conducting further public consultations and requested a report on the findings within a month. However, Cynthia Olsen, the Director of Strategy and Engagement, explained that such a report would take more time to prepare.

She assured the council that extensive public consultation had already been conducted, with vacant lots emerging as the most preferred option among respondents. Olsen also noted that the FWBIA was invited to participate in the online survey.

Olsen reminded the council that the meeting aimed to “hold” the lot temporarily, and conducting another comprehensive consultation would delay the report until late August or September.

Incoming City Manager John Colin predicted that additional feedback would likely reflect the same opposition witnessed during the meeting.

Future Steps and Community Involvement

After approximately three hours of intense discussion and a brief recess for clarification, the council voted to remove references to the Viscount parking lot from the report and to include an “ongoing review of distance guidelines.” The amended proposal was carried in the council chambers.

The ratification vote on this decision is scheduled for July 15, offering another opportunity for community input and further deliberation on the issue.

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