People experiencing homelessness in Thunder Bay say designated encampments could help

Last summer, the number of people known to be sleeping outside in Thunder Bay, Ontario, nearly tripled compared to the previous year. City council is considering the feasibility of supported or designated encampments, and has directed staff to report back in June about potential sites and costs.

On Friday, Ontario Housing Minister Paul Calandra announced more than $9 million for 52 new transitional housing units in the city. Service providers say they’re hopeful about the much-needed spaces, but concerns remain about how many people will still be in the encampments this summer.

Last year, city council voted to take a human rights-based approach to the encampments rather than removing people from municipal property. Led by Elevate NWO, service providers have been giving out food, supplies and housing applications to those living in tents.

City staff surveyed more than 1,200 people — including the general public, people with lived experience of homelessness, community partners and Indigenous leaders — about the concept of designated or supported encampments on municipally-owned lands.

Cynthia Olsen, the city’s director of strategy and engagement, and policy and research analyst Rilee Willianen presented the findings to council last week. The majority of people said they were in favour of some kind of designated sites, though responses varied on whether they should provide basic needs or a full suite of support, Olsen said.

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