Cleaning up spots around town is treating the symptoms of homelessness and addiction and will not address its cause, says the Shelter House’s executive director.
The city recently cleared out around 2.5 acres of its vacant land near Field Street, a popular spot for the homeless and the scene of two homicides in the past few years.
Patty Hajdu said she understands why the city wants to clear out the spot, but believes the focus should instead be on the root causes of poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental health.
"We could pave over the entire city but we'd still have a problem with severe homelessness and substance use," she said.
The same spot was cleared last year and people still returned Hajdu said. It's a temporary fix.
"People find new places to go," she said. "Really it's like a hot potato response."
In the mean time more people fall through the cracks, caught in severe, permanent homelessness with no access to services.
Coun. Paul Pugh, whose McKellar ward has the area, said he understands that the city needs to clean up its vacant land but it doesn't solve anything.
"It's not enough to just tear down where they're camping out. At the end of the day they're going to have to have some place to live," he said.
While the city now has a poverty reduction strategy nothing, including its main priority to address the affordable housing crunch in Thunder Bay, has been done to implement it.
"Now you have to put some teeth into it to get this thing going," Pugh said.
Thunder Bay Police Service Deputy Chief Andy Hay agrees that people will go elsewhere and the department will be on the lookout but the cleanup will help give police better visibility in an area that has seen a lot of violent crime.
Brush and undergrowth were cleared out for officers on foot patrol to keep an eye on things and make it safer for everyone. It's been a haven for people with addiction issues but that's made it a very dangerous place, which is why police asked the city to clean it up.
"I think it's going to help in that area significantly with respect to the problems that we've been having there," he said.