Not One More Death calls out the systemic roots of the ongoing crisis and outbreak among the city’s population who depend on shelters

Not One More Death (N1MD) is pleased that the City of Thunder Bay Council has responded positively to the report its staff prepared based on the group’s seven recommendations for addressing the ongoing crisis in the shelter system with cold weather and COVID-19. 

The report included support for the N1MD’s proposals for a care bus to transport people in need in cold weather, for more responsive and better integrated services, for the construction of an Anishinaabe healing lodge, and for no role for the police, who remain widely feared in the community.

However, the group remains concerned about the situation. The standing Class Order directed at controlling the outbreak in the city’s population who rely on its shelter system threatens an already vulnerablized population with fees and arrest.

“We’re happy the city is taking this situation seriously,” says Suz Hansen, a spokesperson for the N1MD. “However, things didn’t need to be this way. The current crisis the city is scrambling to address is the direct result of years of disastrous policy and a lack of care at all levels of government.” 

The group feels that despite a good effort by the administration to adapt their recommendations, most problems in the city for vulnerabilized people will not change unless this crisis is taken to be a catalyst for deeper, broader transformations.

“Now it is the time to ask how the situation got this bad, and to look to bigger, deeper, and more caring long term visions” says Kate Rookes, another spokesperson. “We’ve identified four broad areas that need attention to improve the underlying situation.” 

Lack of quality affordable housing: “That at least 500 people are depending on the shelter system in this city represents a scandalous failure for which all levels of government must take responsibility,” Hansen says. “This is a rich country. We have the resources to provide high-quality, affordable housing to everyone. This crisis is the result of political choices, it was not inevitable.” 

Major gaps in, and underfunding of, health and social care: “We hear story after story from people about major gaps and oversights in the health and social care system that mean that people can’t get the help they need,” Rookes says. “Many people have experienced racism at the hospital or fallen through the cracks.” The group notes that most people needing care find themselves trying to navigate a confusing labyrinth of systems and that many supports are only funded on a temporary basis, not permanently. 

The use of policing and jails/prisons to solve social problems: “This city has chosen to spend more per-capita than almost any other city in Canada on policing, and problems continue to get worse.” Hansen explains. The group argues that most criminalized activity is a downstream effect of upstream problems, including the traumas of racism and colonialism, addiction, abuse and neglect. “Policing and imprisonment are absurdly expensive and ineffective ways to deal with these issues and have massive human costs for people and communities. We need to immediately reduce funding for police and prisons and redirect it to address these upstream issues. That begins with not spending $50m on a new police station and not building a new, larger jail that will simply become filled with people and problems our society would rather shove in a corner.”  

An unaddressed culture of racism in institutions and the city at large: “The bottom line is that, because poverty disproportionately impacts Indigenous people in Thunder Bay, it is ignored.” Rookes emphasizes. “Every institution in this city has a role to play in this situation, but it’s part of a larger problem in the culture of the city that is not being addressed. The first step is recognizing what nearly every Indigenous organization and many Indigenous people have been saying for decades: Thunder Bay has a major racism problem. We need help.”

“We want to be clear that the City of Thunder Bay is not, alone, responsible for all these underlying issues, and it doesn’t have the capacity, alone to solve them,” Hansen points out. “But we need to see real honesty and leadership here if we are going to see any lasting change.” 

Not One More Death is a grassroots activist group founded in 2020 to address the multiple sources of premature death among Indigenous, racialized and poor people in Thunder Bay. More information can be found at n1md.com. 

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