Last night during a City of Sault Ste. Marie Council Meeting, a topic which has been one of the focal points of an ongoing series being produced by SaultOnline, homelessness, found its way onto the agenda as the first item. Issues revolving around homelessness, mental health and addictions have become a hot topic in the Community over the past several years, arguably amplified due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.
District of Sault Ste. Marie Administration Board CEO, Mike Nadeau, and Director of Housing Services, Jeff Barban, made a full presentation to Council at the beginning of the meeting and were able to speak at length as Councillors were provided the opportunity to pose questions related to the topic.
During the presentation, numerous budget line items were discussed related to homelessness, housing, shelters etc. along with an explanation of how DSSAB’s support was also offered. Nadeau explained how homelessness is part of their responsibility.
DSSAB has a Housing Services budget of $17.2 million. After various types of alternate funding (mostly provincial) are put in place, the draw on the City levy for housing services is over $11.3 million. Of that $17.2 million, there is over $5 million dedicated specifically to address homelessness.
“DSSABs are also responsible for homelessness and are mandated to have a 10-year housing and homelessness plan as set up on the [funding of the] Province. Our plan includes the use of shelters, outreach workers and the housing stability shelters [which] offer a temporary bed and a safe place to stay for our homeless population. Outreach workers assist people [who are] staying in the shelters,” stated Nadeau.
Nadeau described the shelter system as being open 24/7, 365 days a year. It consists of 20 beds at Pauline’s Place, and now due to COVID restrictions, 7 beds at St. Vincent’s Place. They (DSSAB resources) also have temporary, overflow shelters in place. He did tell council that they will never turn anyone away who wants a bed, having utilized hotels and motels when necessary.
The presentation was detailed and noted that since 2019 DSSAB has made the following investments in combating homelessness.
- Secured $900,000 from Ontario to implement the Low Income Home
Ownership Program (2019);
- Purchased the Steelton Centre from the City for $1.00 and allocated approximately $600,000 to renovate the space to operate as a shelter for Pauline’s Place (2020);
- Purchased the former Sacred Heart School to operate as a shelter, transition rooms and the NRC (2020) at a cost of $500,000;
- Increased shelter worker wages to a minimum of $20.00 per hour (2020/21);
- Implemented the Community Wellness Bus (2020/21);
- Opened the COVID isolation shelter (2021);
- Leased and renovated the Verdi Hall to operate as a temporary low barrier shelter.
Another slide showed how the $5 million for homelessness is allocated.
Councillor Paul Christian looked for clarification on who is responsible for what when it comes to homelessness and mental health.
“Mike, in your presentation, you made it clear that DSSAB could handle capital investment when it comes to additional housing units. But support services are something that you said, and I want to be clear on this, that it’s the responsibility of the provincial or federal government, or for the most part, their responsibility in terms of financing that ongoing cost?,” asked Christian.
“Traditionally, the supports are in the health lens. So that’s why we’re stating, from our perspective, typically, it’s not a DSSAB or a municipal [responsibility], typically. Obviously we do have a responsibility to make sure that we’re providing service. However, the vast majority, because it’s mental health service, addiction services, etc., typically comes from the health sector,” replied Nadeau.
Councillor Dufour, made reference to some media reporting done previously with his statement.
“As DSSAB chair I can certainly appreciate how many different funding envelopes are in the work that we’re doing and it can make it a tricky thing to report on at times, and we’ve certainly seen some inaccuracies in the past,” said Dufour. “So, it’s very nice to see a complete, and a whole picture, of what the municipality is putting towards housing and homelessness being presented here tonight.”
However, in looking for clarification from Nadeau after the meeting, SaultOnline asked how much of the over $5 million allocated towards homelessness from DSSAB comes directly from the City’s levy.
“It’s really difficult for me to break out the funding, some is 100% municipal, provincial or federal. Other is cost shared etc., which includes staff and services in different areas/orgs etc.” replied Nadeau. “I would need to get staff to go through each line. To be safe, I would just prorate the global housing budget and the breakdown as a percentage.”
The last time our organization tried to prorate the numbers, we were accused of misinformation. So for the sake of clarity, we refer you to the following presentation provided to Council below:
In this moment, here is what is known:
- The City will allocate over $11.3 million dollars to the DSSAB
- DSSAB spends over $5 million on Homelessness
- DSSAB is unsure how much of the $5 million comes directly from the City levy
Coucillor Dufour contacted SaultOnline when we published this article to give us the math.
If 11.3 million is about 66% of the 17.2 million dollar budget overall. Then the city’s portion would be 66% of the 5 million or approximately 3.3 million dollars from the city levy according to Dufour.
He admits without going line by line it would be difficult to know the exact amount.
Regardless, the discussion in front of Council last evening did shine a public light on what the hard working team at DSSAB are doing every day to address these issues in our community. Some of which we intend to highlight in future articles as well as our ongoing series on mental health, addictions and homelessness.
In addition, we would like to applaud the Mayor and Council for addressing this and related issues at the Council Meeting with what appears to be a sincere desire to work together with other levels of governments and support agencies to tackle this crisis.
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