Demand for affordable housing in Kenora district very high
The chief administrative officer of the Kenora District Services Board says he’s hopeful northern Ontario municipalities and the provincial government will work together to find a solution for homelessness among people who are incarcerated.
“I feel very hopeful and positive that we are moving towards an all government approach in addressing this serious challenge,” Henry Wall said. “And by no means am I saying that we’re there yet. We have incredible amount of work to do, a lot of hard work that needs to be done across the region.”
“We can’t do this alone as communities,” he said. “And we also know that Ontario cannot do it without working with its municipal partners, either.”
The issue of discharge planning, and a lack of housing or shelter for homeless people who are incarcerated in the Kenora jail — as well as in the Thunder Bay District Jail — has become amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wall said.
In Kenora alone, pre-pandemic, there were about 70 people incarcerated at the Kenora jail, he said (updated numbers weren’t available because the population of the Kenora jail being significantly reduced during the pandemic due to the implementation of public health measures in the facility).
“What it really told us at that time is that, due to the housing crisis and lack of access to affordable and available housing, not just in the municipalities in the District of Kenora, but also in First Nations communities, that our correctional system, that the Ontario correctional system has become part of the housing continuum,” Wall said. “I think that is really important to acknowledge that this isn’t the fault of anyone, but because we lack supportive housing, transitional housing in particular.”
Housing demand high
Wall said the housing shortage in the Kenora district has led to a huge growth in the waiting list. At the end of 2014, there were just under 400 families waiting for affordable housing in the district.
That number has grown to “well over 1,300” families as of this year, Wall said.
“It just goes to show the crisis that we’re in from a housing standpoint, but also the ramifications that that has on services, in particular the justice system and then into homelessness,” he said. “And so, as organizations and the correctional system would implement public health measures in response to the pandemic, we did see individuals that there’s just no room either in the shelter system or in the correctional system.”
As a result, Wall said, vulnerable people, such as homeless individuals being released from incarceration, are just pushed into the margins.
It’s very difficult, Wall said, for someone who went into the justice system homeless to not be released into homelessness when they’re discharged from custody.
Complicating the matter is a lack of supportive housing in the Kenora district.
Wall said as a response to that, the services board, Kenora Chiefs Advisory, and Ne-Chee Friendship Centre launched a supportive housing program.
Government support needed
“We’re finding that when we bring cultural supports, we bring housing and support programs together, individuals are much less likely to end up back in the justice system,” Wall said. “We’re actually able to help them on a path of employment, of education.”
“And so we see this and we believe we should replicate this not just across our region, but I think something that could be done across Ontario.”
That, however, will take support from other levels of government. Wall said the board recently had a meeting with Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Attorney General Doug Downey on the issue.
“Our experience has been quite positive in working with both ministers and working with the province,” Wall said. “I feel that this is something that this government is taking seriously. And we’re looking at … options, and how do we fix this, and how do we ensure that people are not being released into homelessness?”
“But more than that, how do we ensure that people don’t end up in homelessness, or in the justice system in the first place?” he said. “That’s how we’re going to end homelessness, but it’s also how we’re going to end the overcapacity challenges that our jails across northern Ontario are facing.”
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/homeless-inmates-kenora-1.6159936