The federal government has increased funding to reduce overcrowding in Sault Ste. Marie shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan announced $836,590 in funding through Reaching Home, a community-based program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness, that will be split evenly by Social Services Sault Ste. Marie and District and the Indian Friendship Centre of Sault Ste. Marie.
Reaching Home funding was topped up by $400,000 this year in order to address coronavirus-specific needs.
“We have taken many actions to limit the risk of contracting COVID-19 locally,” said Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan in a media release. “This announcement is intended to help vulnerable citizens and the staff and volunteers who work with these Canadians. By working with all Canadians, we protect lives and help mitigate community spread.”
District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board Chair Luke Dufour says that a portion of the COVID-specific funding has been used to create an overflow shelter at the former site of the Steelton Seniors Centre on Wellington Street West.
An agreement with the City of Sault Ste. Marie allowed social services to lease the centre - which is following strict social distancing guidelines during the pandemic - for one dollar.
“The funding has already made a huge difference in being able to improve the building, and adapt it to be used as an overflow shelter just for this time we’re in the pandemic,” Dufour said.
The funding also enabled social services to fund a block of rooms at the Satellite Motel for people needing to self-isolate.
“The needs of quarantine space versus overflow shelter space are different - for quarantine space, you need a totally sealed room for a person to live in while they’re awaiting test results or self-isolating for 14 days, whereas for the overflow shelter, you just need space that’s six feet apart,” said Dufour. “Really, the only thing that would’ve been set up properly as a quarantine space would be your motel rooms, and the Satellite Motel was one of the operators who was generous enough to be able to partner with us and offer this very necessary public health service.”
Another portion of the funding was already used by social services to address food security issues about a month ago when food banks were cut off from ordering food from bulk supply chains.
Freezer meals were purchased from local restaurants and stored at Harvest Algoma, and a transport load of non-perishables was ordered by social services to supply food banks throughout the pandemic.
“They were basically looking at [a] 100 per cent increase over normal numbers - their stores were down to, what they were saying, a week’s worth of food left,” said Dufour. “So we used this emergency funding to take immediate action.”
Dufour says the federal funding through Reaching Home has provided Social Services Sault Ste. Marie and District with enough resources to meet demands, although the low number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Sault and surrounding areas has helped in that as well.
“It’s all worked really well, partly because we haven’t experienced, obviously, the levels of pandemic that the rest of the province has,” Dufour said.