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City ponders next steps after men's shelter closes

Salvation Army will shutter facility in May

Greater Sudbury is will be working with community groups to find ways to accommodate homeless men in the city after news that the New Life Centre shelter will close May 10.

The Salvation Army announced it was closing the downtown shelter this week, which has 22 beds for men. There are 94 beds at four shelters in the city for people with no other place to go, with some aimed at women and families in distress. 

“This decision has been an incredibly difficult one for the Salvation Army,” said Major Bruce Shirran, executive director of the group in Sudbury, in a press release.

“After significant assessment and exploring all alternative options, we came to the unfortunate realization that it is no longer viable for us to continue operating this facility. We want to thank our employees, as well as the Sudbury community, for all of their support over the years.”

Gail Spencer, the city's co-ordinator of shelters and homelessness, said Thursday they were aware for some time that the future of New Life Centre was in doubt. 

“We know it was a very difficult decision for the Salvation Army to make and moving forward, we're going to work with our community partners to see what we can do to fill that gap in our community,” Spencer said. “We're just in early stages right now of reaching out to our other community partners to see what we can do.”

With the official notice from the Salvation Army, Spencer said they're aiming to get something in place before the current shelter closes.

“We just got the notice this week, so we're just starting our conversations,” she said. “But our goal would be to not have have a gap in service – or a very small gap if we had to have one.”

The news comes a few days before Spencer will present a report to the community services committee on the state of the emergency shelter system in Greater Sudbury. The presentation March 18 will outline what other cities do and what sort of service levels the city should be aiming for in helping vulnerable populations.

It says New Life currently averages 68 per cent occupancy. About 30 per cent of residents are transitioning from jail, 13 per cent are transitioning from medical care, and another 13 per cent are recovering addicts or people with mental health challenges.

Among the scenarios are one in which the New Life Centre is no longer operating as a shelter. One proposal would see those beds transferred to the Off the Street Shelter, which currently operates only in winter. 

Under that scenario, the shelter would be open year-round with 39 beds, up from the 30 seasonal beds it currently operates.

“The Salvation Army has been thinking about this decision for a long time, so it's not a direct result of this review,” Spencer said, adding that she couldn't discuss the report until she presents it March 18.

“We didn't know (they were going to close) – they hadn't informed us officially, but it's been discussed for several years,” she said. “Emergency shelters are an important part of our system, but we always focus on moving people who experience homelessness to support them to get to permanent housing. That's always our first goal.”


Darren MacDonald

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