THUNDER BAY – City officials are considering granting a parcel of surplus property to an Indigenous organization to build a 20-unit supportive housing building for homeless youth and young adults.
Thunder Bay city council on Monday night unanimously directed administration to prepare a report and provide recommendations to partner with Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services that could lead to either a land donation or a reduced purchased price to lead to the building of the units.
The organization had identified four parcels of city-owned property declared as surplus that could be potential sites for the housing development. Three of those locations – Junot Avenue, Huron Avenue and the corner of Hudson Avenue and Shuniah Street – are on the north side of the city while Empire Avenue was highlighted as a viable site on the south side.
Justin Marchand, the executive director of the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services, said the organization would be responsible for the construction and maintenance of the units while the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre would provide wraparound programming and supports.
With the issues the Indigenous community faces in Thunder Bay, the ability to work together would send a strong message, Marchand said.
“We present you with the opportunity to join together with strong partners. We present you the opportunity to say we can do better and demonstrate that we will do better,” Marchand said.
The 2016 point in time homeless count in Thunder Bay found there were at least 289 homeless individuals in the city, with 73 per cent – 213 people – of those identifying as Indigenous.
Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre executive director Charlene Baglien said the friendship centre will develop programming and services to help the individuals gain the necessary skills to succeed.
“Indigenous homelessness is not just about lacking a physical structure,” Baglien said.
“Indigenous homelessness is about understanding how individuals and families have been isolated from their relationship to land, to water, to place, to family, to animals, to their culture, to language and identity. To enable and help our youth we connect with who they are to address the relationships.”
Coun. Rebecca Johnson asked about the process of how the occupants would be selected.
It’s not easy, Baglien acknowledged.
“Everyone is in need of housing. I don’t think it’s going to be a simple answer but if you are homeless and in need of housing and there’s a unit available we’ll certainly help you,” Baglien said.
The housing services organization has built similar housing developments to the one proposed for Thunder Bay across Northern Ontario, in communities including Dryden, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
“What we’ve done in other cities over the last decade is starting out with one smaller development has led to multiple phases of different types of housing,” Marchand said. “We are flexible and we’re looking for that partnership and that open door to start things off.”
City administration is to report back at the next meeting on June 18 with recommendations on how council could provide a positive response to the proposal.
Coun. Aldo Ruberto was very supportive of the proposal.
“I hope that they build more units and we give them more land. They’re actually solving a big problem for our city,” Ruberto said.
“Homelessness of any individual – Indigenous or non-Indigenous – costs us incredible amounts of money through emergency services, hospital, social, economic. They’re helping us. It’s a win-win situation.”