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Helping the homeless in Thunder Bay: what they need, in their own words

Last Updated Mar 16, 2016 at 1:40 pm EDT

Lefty, who is homeless, sits on a sidewalk in downtown Thunder Bay, Friday, March 4, 2016. He joins other homeless people at Shelter House for meals and a bed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

THUNDER BAY, Ont. – The Canadian Press asked people who are homeless or work with those on the street in Thunder Bay — one of the worst cities in Canada for homelessness — what advice they would give the federal government as it crafts its first budget and a poverty reduction strategy.

Here’s what they had to say, in their own words:

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“Housing, housing, housing. That’s what we need. That’s what we need in our community, that’s what we need across Canada. We need a national housing strategy.” — Brad King, operations manager, Shelter House, Thunder Bay

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“Housing first. That’s the philosophy that everyone in this country deserves safe, affordable housing. That should be a no-brainer. But along with that we need to offer supports and initiatives for people to remain in their housing and to be housed successfully. So if we have those two things in place, then I think we’ll really be able to tackle this problem.” — Bonnie Krysowlaty, researcher, Lakehead Social Planning Council.

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“You can build a beautiful maze of one-room apartments with beautiful surroundings at a great price, but if you don’t have the supports that are going to be required you might as well not build it because clients moving into those facilities with mental illnesses or addictions — they won’t be staying long, or they will be evicted.” — Ken Mackenzie, nurse practitioner.

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“Try and find more housing units or pay them a little bit more, as long as they don’t take advantage of that and do other things with it. Monitor what’s going on and just try and fix it. There’s a lot of people here who could use a lot of help.”— Brandon Meredith, 19, who pays $100 a month to sleep on a friend’s couch and uses the shelter’s meal service to save money.

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“Build affordable housing for the homeless people because a lot of people can’t pay first and last month’s rent.” — Hazel Cripps, homeless, Thunder Bay.

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“I would rather have the option of paying some towards with your support money that you get, put some towards that last month’s rent and then make up the difference, some kind of payment plan where we don’t have to go, ‘Here’s $1,300’ … It’s really hard to pull up that kind of money.” — Yvonne Hunter, 46, formerly homeless.

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“In order to have a healthier population and in order to have a productive population where we’re able to increase our gross domestic product or whatever they want as benchmarks, we really need to go back to basics: food, shelter, education, those basic things, so really putting in enhanced infrastructure for the poor so that they have a place to live, they have a place to hang their hat, they have a hat to hang and they’ve got food to eat.” — Dr. Ella Goodman, NorWest Community Health Centre.