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Most homeless people in the Nickel city aren’t local, so where are they coming from?

The latest data shows 72% of people who are homeless in Sudbury don’t come from the city, a stat that supports an investigation by reporter Jenny Lamothe, who spent months speaking with people on the street and outreach workers to try to get to the bottom of it
The encampment in Memorial Park as it looked on Oct. 14.

The Point in Time count, undertaken by the city on Oct. 19, identified a great deal of information about people who are homeless in Sudbury, but perhaps none so startling as the number of people who had relocated from another city to live in an encampment or shelter in Sudbury: 95 (72 per cent) of the 132 survey respondents. 

Of those, 33 per cent of those had been in Sudbury less than a year, and 15 per cent for less than 60 days. The top two reasons given are “family moved here,” or “to access services and supports.”

But this number was not a surprise to, or any organizations that work with vulnerable populations in Sudbury. 

We’ve been investigating the surge of new people based on tips and sources since July, trying to figure out why people were coming to Sudbury, and how they are getting here. 

Certainly, some are travelling on their own, but our investigation, though incomplete, is alluding to an unofficial policy among service providers in other jurisdictions; the impression that Sudbury, as the North’s largest city, has more services and housing available. That, and from what we have been told, there are likely instances where people are relocated out of a jurisdiction to make statistics look better or to get a difficult or high-need person off a caseload. 

What we found

We haven’t been able to get anyone official on the record to confirm this is occurring, and it is likely this unofficial policy has, at its core, the best of intention; but after months of research and interviews, and the gathering of much anecdotal information, feels it’s time to share the information we have been able to gather.

Movement can begin at a government level. It specifically states on the Ontario Government’s website that while it is not the preferred action, if it is of benefit to the person that is applying for Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to be moved, then it is allowed and paid for. 

We wanted to find out what investigation parameters would be used: Was it a request from the client that did it; could it be generated by the service provider offering the ODSP, and; is it that policy applied to only to ODSP recipients? We were continually and specifically denied an interview with Children Community and Social Services Minister Merrilee Fullerton.

We have spoken to a service provider that had a client sent by bus, from Barrie to North Bay, in the middle of a February night, with no warning. They had been kicked out of a rehab facility and the worker who put them on the bus simply wanted the client out of their jurisdiction. The worker paid the client’s ticket. The client sent by bus had nowhere to go, and in addition to having addiction and mental health issues was also born with a developmental disorder. 

But this person couldn’t go on the record, because they would lose their job for sharing this information with  

We have spoken to three people who were or are currently without a home. They told they came here because they were told that there were more services and housing available here, so they made the trip on their own. One came on his own dime because a friend told him about the services; one because his partner was from Northern Ontario and she believed there would be more housing here, and; the third, John (not his real name), because his service provider in Toronto told him to come here to apply for his ODSP as housing was cheaper, and the provider would pay his ticket. 

He agreed, telling he looked forward to a fresh start. He wouldn’t go on the record both because he is afraid to lose his ODSP income, but also, because he didn’t want anyone to know he was on the street. 

We heard several stories of people receiving bus tickets from government agencies, mental health service organizations and corrections services, to come to Sudbury to access services. We have heard stories of police picking up people in other cities on warrants, bringing them to Sudbury and then letting them go after processing paperwork. Again, we can’t prove it, but we kept hearing the same stories, both from people living on the street and the outreach workers who work with them.

The original tip heard was that a person from Toronto who had been living in the encampment in Trinity Bellwoods Park was put on a bus by a service provider, no idea whom, and sent to a northern jail where they then caused an outbreak. Again, we have one source, and we can’t back it up on the record. But we hear the stories, over and over. 

What outreach workers say

In covering the homelessness crisis, we have tried our best to get to know the direct support workers of Sudbury, those who give of themselves to help those who are vulnerable or homeless in Sudbury; so, we asked them too. 

Evie Ali and Ali Farooq of the Go-Give Project have encountered many people from out of town over the last year of their night outreach operation. They told us that several people on their 170-person client list come from places other than Sudbury, like southern Ontario, Manitoulin Island and other northern communities. 

“Early in March, Ali and I had met three people at the Off the Street shelter that had recently just arrived in Sudbury, all from North Bay,” said Evie Ali. She asked one of the men why he came, and he told her. “He said: ‘well, you guys have better housing here. It's easier to get housing.”

She said all three men told her they were sent to Sudbury from a hospital in North Bay. All three displayed clear signs of “mental health disabilities.” 

Ali and Farooq are a part of a side group of likeminded Sudbury-based service providers. Though will not print them as they were shown to us off the record, we have seen the screenshots of the conversations that include the information Ali and Farooq attest to, and know their senders. These conversations brought new understandings to the Go-Give team. “That’s when we put together that many are coming from the jails,” said Ali.  

That also includes those who are coming back to Sudbury after spending time in jail, and those being given bus tickets here after being released from jail, and without any support waiting for them here in Sudbury. Some even lose their housing while they are in custody for months, awaiting trial, unable to make bail.

Sara-Jane Berghammer of the John Howard Society, told that jails often give bus fare to recently released people, but that is not a bus ticket to the destination of their choice, or the one that is best for them. It is a bus ticket back to the place they were arrested. 

They arrive in a city without support available to them, nowhere to go. 

In fact, the Auditor General’s Value-for-Money Audit on Homelessness report states that over the last three fiscal years ending 2020/2021, provincially, “on average, almost 3,900 individuals with no stable housing were released from custody each year.” 

But there are also people coming here on their own. 

Not only is Sudbury a hub city of Northern Ontario, it is located along the Trans-Canada highway, and that makes it a common stop for people who are transient, and those who are travelling across Canada. It was common a few decades ago to use a shelter as a hostel — just a place to sleep for the night — and that, unfortunately, is still a small, though concerning issue. 

At the Off the Street Shelter, Pamela Naus told that there are some who are using the shelter as a hostel, and though they do not turn people away if there is capacity, they are clear that the practice is no longer tolerated. 

“They have no desire to look for housing, and don't don't want housing, or they are just travelling around and would like to stay at the shelter for a quick one or two nights and then move on to another location,” said Naus. 

Other times, Naus hears that there are no services in someone’s home community. 

“There's no vacancies, there's no openings. So they need someplace,” said Naus. 

She said people often travel here thinking there will be housing and more resources available to them, and that is certainly true of the more remote communities of Northern ontario. That, and there are more employment opportunities here, compared to small towns. People from southern Ontario have been led to believe that as well, based on what I’ve been told. 

There are also many people who come here from reserves; in the summer, there was actually better access to water and reliable safe electricity in Memorial Park than there was in some remote northern communities.

Perception of more services

In Iain De Jong’s Encampment Response Guide, he specifically notes individuals traveling to Sudbury in search of services. 

Under his section ‘Factors influencing encampments in Greater Sudbury,’ it states that Sudbury has always been a service hub for the things like medicine, education and commerce, that also extends to social services. The guide states that smaller communities tend not to have enough housing, and no infrastructure for those who need emergency housing or are homeless, i.e. a shelter.  

“People with these needs gravitate towards larger centres in the north, including Greater Sudbury,” states the guide.  

Raymond Landry at the Homelessness Network told that he hears this tale often. 

"We have heard that many people choose to come North, thinking there is more access to housing and other related services, or say that that is what they are told,” Landry said. “There is also the immigration factor with families, many Francophone, who see or are told that Sudbury is a welcoming community — and in fact has that official designation with some programs. Greater Sudbury’s housing policy seems to have been seen as an invitation to some.” 

Landry said that at one time, the public housing list included all of the province because people can apply from anywhere, but that changed recently to focus on local needs.  

He said they’ve heard about it for years, but it’s hard to point to an individual. But in the fall of 2020, Landry remembers one incident. “One recent event had a man being dropped off by a police service from Parry Sound to land at our warming centre when it (the pandemic) was just beginning last year." 

He also notes that summer often brings new faces as the warm weather makes it easier to travel. 

Cory Roslyn of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Northeastern Ontario told that overall she couldn’t recall specific instances, but that she had, of course, heard of people being sent on a bus from one community to another to access services. She has seen those who have been refused service in one place and then choose to come to Sudbury. For instance: “North Bay social services refuse to provide service to individuals that are difficult to serve and they end up in Sudbury.”

Rosyln said that Elizabeth Fry is often “the end of the road for people who haven’t done well with other services,” especially for their bail program.

Roslyn adds that: “It is so heartbreaking to see instances of our community failing those who need it most. At the end of the day, all organizations have particular mandates for service, but with increasing addictions and mental health struggles, many don’t seem to fit in anywhere.”

And that does seem the crux of it all: people who are vulnerable and have complex needs, those who do not fit easily into a category or service, are moving or are being moved across the province, and often, landing here in Sudbury.  

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized, including the Black, Indigenous, newcomer and Francophone communities, as well as 2SLGBTQ+ and issues of the downtown core.


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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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