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$1 million capital fund would support homelessness efforts

Thunder Bay’s city council will vote Monday on recommended fund intended to leverage provincial, federal dollars.
Thunder Bay city hall summer
Thunder Bay's city council will debate a recommendation to establish a $1 million capital fund largely geared toward homelessness and poverty efforts on Monday. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council will vote Monday on a recommendation to establish a $1 million fund to support local capital projects that address homelessness and poverty in the city.

The fund is intended to leverage investment from the province, feds, and other funders, and would be recommended for replenishment up to $1 million annually under a proposal that will be presented by city administration Monday.

The recommendation answers a call launched last year by Coun. Mark Bentz for the city to do more on homelessness and other social issues.

In an interview, the at-large councillor said he was pleased with the recommendations, and argued the city can play a leadership role on those files – a sentiment some of his council colleagues have been hesitant to embrace.

“I wanted to try something new, and one of those things was getting the local level more engaged in these matters, and not just hoping that the provincial and federal levels take care of it,” he said. “I think this is a very good start to seeing if we can effect positive change.”

In addition to the $1 million Community Partnership Fund, city staff have recommended tweaking criteria for the Community, Youth, and Cultural funding program to emphasize anti-poverty efforts, and conducting further advocacy for action from senior levels of government.

Staff also recommend opening the $1 million fund to First Nations and other Indigenous governing bodies like tribal councils who serve members in the city, with a report claiming Thunder Bay may be the first municipality in Canada to offer capital dollars to those groups.

Around two-thirds of the city’s homeless population is Indigenous, according to local homelessness point-in-time surveys.

Manager of community strategies Cynthia Olsen said all told, the new strategies represent a major step forward in the city’s efforts.

“I certainly see the items we’ve presented for council’s consideration as a real opportunity to leverage additional funds in the community and bring further community partnerships together,” she said.

The Community Partnership Fund, which already exists but would be retooled if council approves the recommendations Monday, would be boosted to $1 million with an $800,000 injection from the Renew Thunder Bay Reserve Fund, which currently sits at $16 million.

The fund is meant to support major capital projects by local organizations that serve the public, with past recipients including Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, Wequedong Lodge, Magnus Theatre, and Community Clothing Assistance.

Applications are expected to increase if council votes to tweak the criteria as recommended Monday, city staff said.

“We see potential for it to support projects that promote transitional or affordable housing, or different resources that support people experiencing poverty or other issues highlighted in the community safety and wellbeing plan,” said policy and research analyst Melanie Davis.

The fund is also focused on supporting projects that can maximize the impact of city dollars by securing outside investment.

“The idea would be that the projects that are coming through the community partnership fund perhaps already have agreements or potential opportunities to apply for funding,” Davis said.

Applications to the fund would be reviewed by a new grant review team comprised of senior city staff from numerous departments. Council would give final approval to the team’s recommendations.

The deadline for the first round of funding would be in late June, but wouldn’t be awarded by council until next year, due to the upcoming municipal election.

Projects would need to have a total budget of at least $150,000 to qualify. The city’s maximum contribution would be $500,000.

Staff also suggested a new emphasis on metrics used to measure the success of the grants.

In past discussions, some city councillors have expressed concerns expanded spending on homelessness could impact property taxes.

Bentz pointed out the fund is intended to leverage more dollars from outside the community, and said tensions over the encampment at the County Fair mall last year helped forced a reckoning on the issue.

“I can appreciate people thinking that maybe the municipal level, it’s not our mandate to get involved in this, but I believe it is,” he said. “I mean, the well-being of our community is the local government’s focus, or it should be. If we see things that aren’t being done, I think it’s up to us to see that they happen.

“Maybe the municipality doesn’t have to be involved in this forever, but maybe we can bring the people that have that mandate to the table, and do more for these people that need the help.”

Around 700 people in Thunder Bay have signed up to a list of those experiencing homelessness and seeking housing maintained by the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board.

Bentz called that unacceptable in a wealthy country like Canada, but said he’s been encouraged by some new investments and believes calls for action are building.

“I think our society is heading in a direction that wants to help people that are suffering. I’m not the only one – there’s provincial politicians, federal politicians, citizens that feel the same way. I think the tide is turning.”

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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