THUNDER BAY – A package of calls to action to shore up Thunder Bay’s shelter system in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks and a lingering cold snap was passed to city administration for further review by city councillors Monday night.
The recommendations from community group Not One More Death were issued last week, as the group became increasingly concerned the release of individuals from local corrections facilities battling large outbreaks threatened to overwhelm the shelter system.
The group said it has received six credible reports of deaths on the city’s streets since Dec. 24, from local patrol groups and homeless individuals.
Its recommendations include a 24-hour warming bus, the creation of another emergency shelter, and more.
The group also updated its open letter Monday with new recommendations to incentivize those released from corrections to isolate before going back into the community.
That includes a proposal to establish a dedicated isolation centre and pay those released from correctional centres to isolate there.
“This is not just required as incentive, but to compensate for the inability of guests to access forms of income that they would otherwise have if released into the community,” the letter reads.
The group suggested a rate of $150 per day, which should be doubled if they complete the entire isolation period.
They also call for access to entertainment, food, and harm reduction supports including alcohol, tobacco, and access to safe injection facilities.
“We can’t coerce people, we can’t force them to go into isolation, but we really need them to,” said representative Cassie Thornton, while presenting the calls to action Monday.
“We really think this is the only way we’re going to be able to get any of these people to actually be willing to go into isolation and keep us all safe.”
It’s a costly ask, the group conceded, but argued the alternative could be more expensive and would result in further harm.
“We must take into consideration the potentially massive costs of… the massive spread of COVID in the community,” it said. “The costs of a single hospitalized patient on a ventilator is massive.”
The city also bears a moral responsibility to step in, they argued.
“It should be noted that a significant percentage of people in the jail are there either awaiting trial or for petty offenses like not paying fines or not showing up to court appearances,” the letter states. “Their sentence now may be a death sentence. This is a horrific crime against humanity for which many levels of government share responsibility.”
Councillors praised the group’s efforts while emphasizing actions the city was already taking, without weighing in on Not One More Death’s specific proposals.
Instead, Coun. Andrew Foulds put forward a motion to refer the recommendations to city administration “for further exploration, recommendations, and funding opportunities where possible,” with a direction to report back.
The motion also calls for a special meeting of council if direction is required before the next scheduled session on March 1.
“We know this is an incredibly complex and challenging crisis facing us,” Foulds said Monday. “I’m so thankful there are a number of caring groups doing such good work, and I know there are lots of organizations, including the city, working incredibly hard.”
The city needed to ensure it had “all the information” before deciding exactly how best to respond, he said.
Mayor Bill Mauro sought to reassure residents the municipal government was taking the issue seriously.
“We appreciate the work you’re doing to try to fill these gaps, but to make sure the community knows, there has been a tremendous amount of work ongoing for some time in this regard.”
In a memo to council, city manager Norm Gale advised that “city council does not have the authority to enact” some of the recommendations, which also implicate groups like the health unit, city police, and the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board, which administers provincial funding to shelters.
Councillors voted unanimously for the motion to refer Monday. Coun. Trevor Giertuga declared a conflict of interest due to his employment in the corrections system.