Ontario's human rights commissioner is calling on social services in the Kenora area to work more effectively together, as the deadline for the reopening of the downtown shelter approaches. Commissioner Renu Mandhane visited the community with her staff, as they prepared a special report on the issue of homelessness in the city.

The shelter is set to reopen next week. The 45-day review period ends Sept. 26, and partners have been meeting in an effort to improve support services for patrons.

Recommendations from the human rights commissioner:
Based on these key observations, the OHRC makes the following recommendations to
assist Kenora with addressing the immediate and long-term challenges identified above.

To the Kenora District Services Board:
1. Before reopening the Shelter on September 26:
a. meet with shelter users to understand their experiences and needs, and to communicate what they can expect over the short term
b. ensure robust communication with the Ne-Chee Friendship Centre to clarify expectations and understand what they need to provide a safe environment for shelter users and staff
c. ensure robust communication with all relevant social service providers to ensure they understand what is happening and how it might affect their services
d. host a community forum in collaboration with the City and Ne-Chee Friendship Centre to provide relevant information about the re-opening of the Shelter, dispel any possible misconceptions, answer any questions and seek the community’s support.
2. Continue to create forums for all social service providers to share knowledge and information, both from Western and Indigenous world views and perspectives. Everyone should be able to participate equally. Meetings should be co-chaired with Indigenous leaders and adopt a culturally appropriate format like a sharing circle. Appropriate Elders should be identified and invited to provide guidance and reflections.
3. Meet with and understand the diverse needs and perspectives of shelter users, homeless people and/or intravenous drug users and front-line service providers; and ensure that all policies, programs and initiatives are responsive to their identified needs and do not increase stigma or discrimination.
4. Consistent with Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action 57, undertake and require regular cultural safety training developed in collaboration with local First Nations communities and Indigenous-led organizations.

To the City of Kenora:
5. Meet with and understand the diverse needs and perspectives of shelter users, homeless people and/or intravenous drug users and front-line service providers;
and ensure that all policies, programs and initiatives are responsive to their identified needs and do not increase stigma or discrimination.
6. Create a working group that includes diverse community members and Indigenous peoples to report on the lived experience of racism and discrimination in Kenora (similar to the 1974 While we Sleep report).
7. Consistent with Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Call to Action 57, undertake and require regular cultural safety training developed in collaboration
with local First Nations communities and Indigenous-led organizations.

To all regional, municipal, social service and Indigenous stakeholders:
8. Work collaboratively to develop and implement a poverty reduction and affordable housing strategy.
9. Work collaboratively to develop and implement a harm reduction strategy to address the health and social needs of intravenous drug users, with time-bound
commitments and measurable outcomes.
10. Work collaboratively to create an outreach and education campaign to combat the stigma associated with homelessness and drug addiction.
11. Consistent with TRC Call to Action 43, work collaboratively with First Nations and Indigenous leaders to develop an action plan to fully adopt and implement the
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation and anti-racism activities.

To the provincial and federal governments:
12. Provide immediate financial and technical support to address the homelessness emergency in Kenora region.
13. Meet with municipal governments the KDSB, social service stakeholders and diverse Indigenous peoples to understand their concerns about homelessness and drug addiction, and systemic barriers to meeting related needs.
14. Provide all required technical and financial assistance to help with developing and implementing action plans related to poverty reduction, affordable housing, harm reduction and implementation of the TRC Calls to Action.
15. Consistent with TRC Call to Action 43, work collaboratively with First Nations and Indigenous leaders to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration
on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

For more information:

OHRC report