THUNDER BAY — A non-profit organization that provides shelter, meals, transportation and other supports to Indigenous clients travelling to the city for medical care is ramping up its fundraising for a future expansion.
Wequedong Lodge executive director Donna Kroocmo said the project is necessary to provide a more healing atmosphere for its clients.
The lodge operated out of multiple locations from 1986 to 2012, when it moved to a single building with 51 rooms and 110 beds at 435 Balmoral Street.
According to Kroocmo, it's now serving 400 people a day, and its client load is growing by about eight per cent a year.
"That means we have an awful lot of people that don't have rooms at the lodge, and we're putting them out in hotels," she said. "So we have 120 rooms that we're guaranteeing in other places for these clients to stay, and it's costing an exorbitant amount of money."
Kroocmo said the monthly bill for hotel fees has risen to over $1 million a month.
"We're in a significant deficit at all times," she said. "We're constantly going back to Indigenous Services Canada asking them fo offset our deficit on a regular basis."
Some Wequedong clients have remained in hotel rooms for up to two years at a time because their medical conditions require that they stay in the city.
Kroocmo said a hotel is far from an ideal solution.
"It's very different from staying in a therapeutic-type healing lodge. We know we need to expand our services and have a better experience for our clients. We don't want to be putting them in hotels."
In 2020, Wequedong received conditional support from Thunder Bay city council for an estimated $25 million project that would double its capacity for temporary accommodation and also provide for 10 rent-geared-to-income units.
At the time, it hoped that funding assistance from a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation program would enable it to start construction in 2021.
In an interview this week, Kroocmo explained that an application was submitted to CMHC's co-investment fund, but that program has now been terminated.
"We did get some seed funding from them to start the drawings for the new build, but no further funding has come forward."
Construction costs have risen significantly since the initial plans were unveiled, and are now approaching an estimated $35 million, but Wequedong continues to lobby for the project and is working to raise money on its own.
Kroocmo said that although the organization is still looking to expand at its current site, it may ultimately be necessary to purchase a building somewhere else in town and renovate it.
"We've got to fundraise in order to come up with 25 to 50 per cent of the down payment that a traditional financer wants, and that's a lot of money. The city will not grant us a lottery licence until we can prove we've done some fundraising."
To meet that requirement, Wequedong Lodge has organized a unique "picture scavenger hunt" and a spaghetti dinner.
Half the proceeds from participation in the scavenger hunt will go toward the expansion project, half will be used for prize money, and either individuals or organizations can buy tickets costing $20.
The fundraiser ends on May 2.
On April 26, there's also a spaghetti dinner at the DaVinci Centre, with tickets available until April 19.
Information about both events is available on the Wequedong Lodge Facebook page, at the lodge itself, at its offices at 678 City Road, or from Kroocmo who can be reached at 807-632-9642 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.