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Huge damage bill expected from motels used to house homeless after recent tent encampments

'Isn't it a shame that we're helping these people out... and we have to spend that much money in damage?’ - Prince Mayor Ken Lamming, talking about the six-digit damage bill
tent city
Part of the tent city that was erected at the Sault Ste. Marie Civic Centre in October 2021

Damage claims from the Bel-Air and Satelite motels after homeless people were relocated there from tent encampments last fall are expected to easily exceed six digits, members of the Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board learned Thursday night.

Jeff Barban, DSSMSSAB's director of housing services, mentioned a preliminary estimate of $165,528.

"That's just allocated to the damages above what we originally estimated," Barban said.

"That funding will be utilized to fund the balance of the two hotels as we restore them back to their original condition."

Asked by SooToday to provide further information about the motel damages, DSSMSSAB chief executive officer Mike Nadeau said a full report will be provided at a board meeting in February.

Nadeau said a third hotel he didn't identify was also used as a homeless shelter and he expressed concern that the $165,528 estimate might be incomplete.

"On the number of the damages, that was what we estimate. I've asked Jeff to make sure we're coming with a full report," he said.

"I'm nervous to actually quantify it. I was surprised that he listed a number because to my knowledge we weren't done."

"I'm not comfortable listing that because I haven't seen the bottom-line tally yet," Nadeau told us, adding: "But it will be in the six-figures, as Jeff said."

"Isn't it a shame that we're helping these people out, whoever needs the help, and we have to spend that much money in damage," said Prince Mayor Ken Lamming, a member of the DSSMSSAB board.

"That's a shame. That's a waste of money," Lamming added.

"I do share your sentiment," said Luke Dufour, Ward 2 councillor and DSSMSSAB chair.

"I think the real shame there is that damages are dollar-for-dollar coming out of services that we could otherwise provide to the low-barrier shelter at the Verdi, which was already well on the way to being in the works this summer," Dufour said. 

SooToday asked Nadeau whether Social Services has any legal options to recover the damage costs.

"We're currently having discussions internally to see what, if any, recovery mechanisms we can put in place."

"Right now...we're just 20 days in, in January. We're just making sure that we're honouring our agreement with the hotel owner right now," Nadeau said.

He said the report to be presented next month will be a full account, complete with photographs "that tell that story."

"The reason we're trying to provide that full report...is to demonstrate the need for supportive housing and to show what happens when housing is provided without that strategic lens, as was done as a result of the protest."