The Go-Give Project in Sudbury says its clients urgently need more support.
People experiencing homelessness in Sudbury, Ont., have been encountering more frustration and conflict over the past few months, according to advocacy groups.
The Go-Give Project has six volunteers who serve 161 registered clients in Sudbury. The group says in the last six weeks alone, its volunteers have provided first aid to nine individuals who had knife wounds.
The Go-Give Project began in November 2020, with a mission to advocate for vulnerable people, while also providing harm-reduction services and helping to connect clients with care services.
Operations manager, Evie Ali, says the mental well-being of many of her clients is fading, especially after the city’s recent evictions from encampments in Memorial Park.
“People don’t know where to go,” she says. “Therefore, you know, they’re sort of fighting over spaces or turning on one another. They are now, again, trying to find spaces, but realistically, there aren’t any for them.”
Pandemic restrictions disrupt services
Ali says the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic have meant some of the usual support services have closed down, which has built stress in many people experiencing homelessness.
Last month, the warming centre at the YMCA on Durham Street shut down. Many vulnerable people used it to store belongings, and now must carry them around at all times. This puts them at risk of violence from anyone who might want to steal their possessions.
“(With) the risk of being robbed or maybe mugged, you might say, comes a risk of being extremely and incredibly hurt,” Ali says. “It’s just not safe at this time.”
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Her own volunteers have faced assaults and threats from the clients they serve, though she says her group remains committed to connecting those people with help to better their lives.
Ali says Sudbury’s commitment in March to fund transitional housing spaces is a start, but she adds a broad approach cannot effectively meet the varied needs and backgrounds of all those experiencing homelessness.
“We feel that a lot of people making these decisions are not out here. They’re not stepping outside of their offices and they’re not really giving this the human perspective that it deserves,” she says.
Sudbury does not support temporary outdoor living areas
An option Ali says would create immediate stability in vulnerable citizens’ lives would be if the city could designate an area for anyone experiencing homelessness to sleep outdoors during the warm months, without fear of eviction.
However, a spokesperson for the City of Greater Sudbury says the city “does not support a site where people can remain unsheltered outdoors” during overnight hours, and instead encourages those in need to use shelter spaces.
Ali says many of her clients feel uncomfortable using the shelter system. Some have experienced abuse or discrimination from other community members and they feel unsafe being in the same space as them.
She says very few of their clients meet the criteria for the women’s shelter at Cedar Place. Male clients, which make up the majority, do not have a designated men’s shelter to access.
Merit to supporting outdoor living spaces
Amber Fritz is a social service worker and harm reduction worker at Réseau Access Network. She also spent seven years as an outreach worker in Sudbury.
She says members of the Réseau Access Network team have also seen a trend of increasing conflict.
“I still see a lot of really beautiful camaraderie, and folks taking care of one another. But you can see when tensions rise and stress comes out. People are literally just out there trying to survive—just strictly survival mode,” Fritz says.
The closure of the YMCA warming centre has been difficult on people experiencing homelessness, as it was more accessible to users. Fritz says Sudbury could benefit from an ultra-low barrier shelter, one that could offer more freedom for clients to come and go at all hours.
Fritz says there is merit to supporting outdoor spaces where anyone experiencing homelessness could set up tents, since many feel this is the most comfortable option. In the long-term, she says access to adequate supply of accessible, affordable housing will help vulnerable people meet their most basic needs.
Police reports not showing increase in downtown violence
Greater Sudbury Police Service spokesperson Kaitlyn Dunn says since the start of the pandemic there has been a perception the city is less safe.
Yet between May and June, the police service did not see an increase in reported incidents of violent crime in the downtown area. This is the time when Ali says her clients have experienced issues like assaults.
Dunn says over the past several months, GSPS officers have conducted 52 per cent more patrols downtown, compared to the previous year.
“We know that enforcement is not a suitable or sustainable way to address these concerns,” she said. “Addressing social issues upstream by providing vulnerable community members with wraparound social services has proven to be effective where enforcement alone has proven to be ineffective. This is why we place great emphasis on working with our community partners.”
CBC News contacted Canadian Mental Health Association Sudbury/Manitoulin. They chose not to comment for this story.
Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger has supported a downtown task team with community partners working to support vulnerable members. The city did not make him available for comment before publication.
Original Article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/frustration-conflict-growing-vulnerable-people-1.6094904