The homelessness crisis in Sudbury was once again a topic of discussion during the Nov. 9 Greater Sudbury city council meeting, with Laurentian University academic Carol Kauppi stating in her presentation that she is against the closure of encampments “for any reason.”
In a later interview with Sudbury.com Tyler Campbell, the city’s manager of children and social services, confirmed that the closure of encampments would only come in an emergency situation.
He did not specify what that emergency would be, except a “health and safety issue.”
The meeting featured a presentation from Kauppi, director of the Centre for Research in Social Justice and Policy and a professor in the school of social work at Laurentian University, and Kevin Fitzmaurice, the centre’s director of research (formerly a professor in the University of Sudbury’s now-defunct Indigenous Studies program).
Campbell also presented to council on the invitation of Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh.
McIntosh asked for an update on the city’s work within the several encampments around the city — Campbell said there were eight locations being monitored, with six currently active — and addressed the formation of the co-ordinated response table described in the encampment response guide created by consultant Iain De Jong.
Invited by both Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini and Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc, Kauppi and Fitzmaurice spoke to several aspects of the centre’s research and their findings specific to homelessness in Northwestern Ontario.
Kauppi has been a researcher in the field for more than 20 years and has completed both qualitative and quantitative research in remote areas of the region.
At the end of her presentation and after answering councillors’ questions, councillors voted to add both Kauppi and Fitzmaurice to the Coordinated Response Table, a team described in the guide created by Iain De Jong.
But it was De Jong’s guide that Kauppi took issue with when she spoke to Sudbury.com recently. It was these very issues that Kauppi raised at the meeting.
Criticism of response guide
In addition to noting that she felt De Jong’s plan was not specific enough to Northern Ontario, she took issue with what she said is the lack of information and knowledge from those with lived experience in the guide. She also said, in her opinion, there is a disconnect between the preamble of the guide, and the actual plan.
As well, both Kauppi and Fitzmaurice spoke of the The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in relation to encampments.
UNDRIP prohibits forced relocation of Indigenous people, specifically, Article 10, which states that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” Though Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland questioned the applicability of the article, Fitzmaurice stated that because Memorial Park is situated on Indigenous Land, specifically, the land of the Anishinabek, it is a reasonable interpretation of the article.
Kauppi also noted the need to invest in affordable housing, and to make that housing affordable by examining the financial supports in place, including Ontario Works and disability programs, but also through finding housing supports.
Housing support credits were a feature of De Jong’s guide as a short-term alternative while housing is built.
Kauppi said the best solution to encampments is housing, more shelter space and more motel space; the city is currently using a motel to house those who are isolating due to COVID-19, and during the height of the pandemic, another local hotel was used to shelter those unable to find housing in the city.
At the time, the shelter at 200 Larch St. was still unfinished. (It is now open).
More than anything, Kauppi was against the closure of the encampments for any reason.
Kauppi told council it is a basic human right to have access to sanitary services such as water and washrooms, and that should be provided to the encampment; and there should never be a forced closure.
Rise of encampments a new phenomenon
But the forced closure of any encampments around the city is not part of the city’s plan, unless there is a concern for public safety, Tyler Campbell told council and later Sudbury.com.
When asked to expand on that, Campbell told Sudbury.com that because an issue like the encampment had never come up in the history of the city, it would be difficult to predict what that might be.
“If there was a danger to someone's health and safety in an encampment-type situation, then we would provide notice and work through that process,” Campbell told Sudbury.com. “To date we do not have that situation that's current in Greater Sudbury.”
Campbell said any movement or closure would be determined on an individual basis and with the work of the outreach teams and the Coordinated Response Table.
Though there is currently a health and safety issue in the large Memorial Park encampment in downtown Sudbury, an active COVID-19 outbreak and one that has reached a peak of 31 active cases, the situation is being well handled by all community partners, said Campbell.
Those who need to be isolated are being housed at a local motel, as previously stated, and there is capacity for more beds if needed, said Campbell.
“Right now, the situation is stable,” he said.
He noted the city continues to provide testing and that Public Health Sudbury is offering vaccinations to the vulnerable population regularly, something that can be difficult for those who often have an issue obtaining forms of identification.
There are some who wish to leave the city-provided motel and isolate on their own, something two outreach workers have told Sudbury.com off the record.
Campbell acknowledged this, but added that working with community partners in this situation has helped.
“We've been working very closely with our partners to make sure that people have the supports that they need to go through that isolation process,” said Campbell. “And I think it's been working quite well, in terms of the partnerships that we've been doing to support people.”
Campbell said the Coordinated Response Table had been formed, and had been working through the Encampment Response Guide presented by homelessness consultant De Jong.
So far, the team is made up of Campbell as the Local Response Leader, along with partners at Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre, Greater Sudbury Police Service, the city bylaw department and the Homelessness Network.
Campbell also said they would include advice from Public Health Sudbury and Districts, as well as the Greater Sudbury Fire Services and Greater Sudbury Paramedic Services.
Campbell also offered an update on the progress made. So far, 15 people from the encampments across the city have been housed, whether right now or on Dec. 1, and Campbell notes that those who are waiting have been offered room at the motel.
He also said the city is working through long- and short-term objectives.
“Some of the short-term ones are just general sort of cleanup, some protocols in place for dealing with people that have been in their tents, for example,” said Campbell, referring to the clean up that happened on Nov. 3 and then again on Nov. 10. “Then more longer-term pieces, which is really working on an individualized approach, trauma informed, individualized approach with individuals to get them connected to supports and services.”
And in addition to housing, Campbell told Sudbury.com the city is, “exploring options to get those individuals some bridge housing, so an option might be a motel for example.”
At the Nov. 9 council meeting, city director of communications Marie Litalien spoke to the city website being updated “by the end of the week,” with information pertaining to the homelessness situation in Sudbury, including services and resources available.
The challenges that lie ahead are many, said Campbell, but notable is the need for direct support workers, a taxing and emotional career requiring a specialized skill set.
“I would tell you that we are seeing a lot of capacity issues in general, from a human resource perspective,” said Campbell. “People have been working very hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of overtime, a lot of high intensity needs. And so we are seeing that it has been difficult to recruit within the sector.”