This week local groups, volunteers and service providers join together in common cause to raise awareness about people living in the community who have been struggling to get by on too little for too long.
The Week of Action Against Poverty is about creating hope from hopelessness. It’s a call to action by those who work daily to improve living conditions for the poor, the homeless, the vulnerable, the disenfranchised as well as people who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.
For those who lend a helping hand, the challenges must seem overwhelming at times. Especially during the winter months; for every person fed, another goes hungry; for every homeless shelter bed filled, others make do on the street; for every soul saved, another is lost.
The choice is clear; acknowledge the situation and work towards a solution or ignore it and hope it goes away. It may take years, generations perhaps, to change the way things are but for those who are committed to ending poverty that’s not an excuse to give up.
Making Kenora Home launched the first Week of Action in 2007 and since then many changes have and are taking place in the community.
In the past year we have seen several Housing First initiatives go from concept, through planning to reality.
The Community Services Hub and emergency shelter at the former Knox United Church annex opened on March 11, 2019. The hub was designed to provide emergency accommodation, meals and programs for up to 48 clients. A year later it is a work in progress and not without setbacks. Overwhelmed by an influx of people displaced following the Lila Block fire on March 17, 2019, the centre closed for 45 days beginning on Aug. 12 to ‘reset’ its program and response to the additional challenges posed by clients suffering from mental health and addictions issues in addition to poverty.
The relatively recent rise of methamphetamine use and addiction has imposed additional challenges on law enforcement, health care and addictions services providers, which have yet to be resolved.
The centre reopened on Sept. 26 on a limited basis to provide overnight stays and meals. The plan going forward is to introduce programs for a 24/7 service to provide safe accommodation, healthy living and help clients gain the skills, counselling and confidence to live independently.
The centre’s downtown location continues to be controversial among those who blame the facility for drawing the ‘wrong sort’ to the downtown core; scaring neighbourhood residents and frightening customers away from stores and businesses. Such concerns may be valid but history provides harsh lessons on the downside of singling out minorities as ‘undesirables’ who don’t belong.
Every Housing First initiative announced in Kenora over the past year has encountered similar neighbourhood pushback: the Aboriginal Housing Authority’s 20-30 unit supportive living centre at Ninth St. N. and Brinkman Road; the 10 unit group home for youth in transition from foster care on Fourth St. N.; and, the 28 bed Bail Supervision and Verification Program residence in the Riverside Road area.
Despite complaints by neighbourhood residents, petitions and deputations to city council, all of the projects are moving forward. Support for these social housing and community justice initiatives comes much to the disappointment of those who would rather see these developments lumped together into some sort of ‘poverty ghetto’ located on the edge of town perhaps.
Such controversy is nothing new, not for Kenora or any other community on the front lines where social upheaval is taking place. People tend to be unsettled by change and prefer things to stay the way they are or were. Life was always better or easier in some mythical past it seems.
The changes that are now taking place in Kenora have been a long time coming, decades in some respects. The Housing First initiatives follow the recommendations by a lot of people and organizations committed to doing what they believe is the right thing to do.
It’s a lengthy list of groups and organizations to acknowledge and by no means complete, omissions are not intentional: Making Kenora Home, Kenora detachment OPP, NeChee Friendship Centre, Jubilee Church of God, Kenora Fellowship Centre, Ontario Native Women’s Association, Kenora District Services Board, Northwest Community Legal Clinic, Kenora Association for Community Living; Kenora People First, Northwestern Health Unit – Northern Connections Project, Sunset Area Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Services, Kenora Salvation Army, Saakaate House Women’s Shelter, Women’s Place Kenora, Kenora Sexual Assault Centre, Lake of the Woods District Hospital, Kenora Assembly of Resources, Every Person In Community, Food for Thought, Minto Family Resource Centre, Compassionate Kenora, and, Kenora Chiefs Advisory.
It’s up to the individual to decide whether their efforts are appreciated. If so the Week of Action is an opportunity to acknowledge your support such as wearing a People First red ribbon on Valentine’s Day; picking up a copy of Making Kenora Home’s 6th edition of Homeless in Kenora – See Me, Not Meth; attending the Summer of Love music concert at TryLight Theatre on Saturday, March 15; or by participating in community discussions.
There is also the coldest Night of the Year fundraising walk on behalf of Jubilee Church and Kenora Fellowship Centre community outreach programs on Saturday, Feb. 22.
The time to close your eyes and turn away has long since passed.