The District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board announced Wednesday it is now working in partnership with two key community partners at Northern Pines.
Under what DNSSAB is calling "an innovative agreement," the sometimes controversial transitional housing complex on Chippewa Street West will bring together the expertise of DNSSAB, the Crisis Centre North Bay (CCNB), and the North Bay Regional Health Centre (NBRHC) to offer wrap-around services on-site to help break the chronic homelessness cycle.
See related: What is the future of the Low Barrier Shelter?
Northern Pines is billed by DNSSAB as "an upstream multi-disciplinary housing and health project aimed to reduce homelessness and provide relief and support for residents with addictions and mental health concerns."
See also: $5.3 million in total funding for local homelessness programs
“As the service system manager for housing in Nipissing District, DNSSAB applauds the partners’ willingness to participate in this unique model and for arriving at a creative, suitable plan to provide wrap-around services to clients,” says DNSSAB Chairperson Mark King.
See: Near North Board and DNSSAB say homeless are not a threat to students
Northern Pines has encountered backlash from the community and its placement has been questioned by the students and parents of nearby schools. There are also nearby facilities for seniors. The pedestrian bridge spanning the Highway 11/17 bypass has also been vandalized on multiple occasions.
In a presentation during Wednesday afternoon's Board meeting, Tyler Venable, DNSSAB's manager of housing programs, acknowledged the augmented services at Northern Pines "might result in more traffic," on Chippewa Street West and the nearby school and retirement home had been notified.
See: Chippewa addresses nearby warming centre concerns
And: Security staff hired to keep the homeless out of area high school
Asked for its reaction to the announcement, the Near North District School Board said, "The safety of our staff and students remains the number one priority. NNDSB has no influence in municipal politics or district social services."
“The needs of people experiencing homelessness vary from those with complex health challenges to those who simply need a safe place to stay on their journey out of homelessness,” King continues. “These important health supports provided by NBRHC, along with CCNB programming and other housing wrap-around services, will help to stabilize residents and connect them to other resources and services in the community.”
According to a news release, "DNSSAB recognized years ago the complex needs of those experiencing chronic homelessness require more than a meal and a roof, and effective change required a creative way to bring health supports into the Northern Pines model.
"With these key partnerships in place, Northern Pines is at the provincial leading edge, bringing much-needed on-site medical, psychological, and emotional supports to tenants. Community collaboration is instrumental to the successful reduction of homelessness and the vision to end chronic homelessness."
The Crisis Centre North Bay is the contracted operator of Northern Pines and has worked for decades in the community providing shelter services and programming for people experiencing homelessness. CCNB delivers housing services at Northern Pines, through a residential support team that offers a structured, supportive and supervised living space. Staff are on-site 24/7 to provide supports to residents including independent life skills training, one-on-one counselling, cooperative living skills, nutrition education, meal planning and preparation, community awareness, and structured tenancy.
“No one organization can solve the issues surrounding homelessness, mental health, and addictions — we need to be working together. Our clients need integrated care with community supports in one environment. We are excited to be a part of a system that is going to combine health and housing, providing a much-needed wrap-around approach for our community’s most vulnerable,” says Sue Rinneard, executive director of Crisis Centre North Bay.
The North Bay Regional Health Centre has a strong history of innovative programs and practical experience providing mental health support in our community. One of its two Assertive Community Treatment Teams (ACTT) will operate out of Northern Pines. ACTT is a multidisciplinary team of professionals, led by a psychiatrist, providing coverage in the community 16 hours per day, seven days per week with after-hours on-call coverage.
In addition to ACTT, NBRHC will provide on-site addiction supports on a scheduled monthly basis, through its mobile Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic.
“We’re proud to team up with the Crisis Centre and DNSSAB to improve mental health service efficiency and access for people experiencing homelessness,” says Paul Heinrich, NBRHC president and CEO. “This collaboration between community partners is an example of making our current investments work better for the people who need it most in a location that best meets their needs.”
DNSSAB’s Community Paramedicine Program will also provide services on-site at Northern Pines. Paramedics will be able to offer health assessments, point-of-care testing, vaccinations, and blood work to residents at Northern Pines to improve overall physical health. In many cases, access to the Community Paramedicine Program is the first point of contact for health services for homeless individuals.
DNSSAB says, "The Northern Pines delivery model integrates Health Quality Standards, based on established scientific methods and best available evidence, with supportive housing best practices and offers well-defined pathways to care, including on-site treatment for mental health and addictions."
The 60-unit Northern Pines has eight units per wing on two separate floors of the former police headquarters. Each room is outfitted similarly to a college dorm room, with a private bathroom, digital safe, and HEPA air filtration unit. Occupants have access to a shared kitchen and common lounge area. The 16 Phase 1 units opened in November 2021 and have a medium level of support for clients and were built at a cost of $1.2 million.
Phase 2 has 20 units requiring a low level of supports and was built at a cost of $2.5 million. Phase 3 offers 24 units with a high level of support, at a cost of $2.8 million to build. These two phases are slated to open this year.
Building on this work, DNSSAB says it recently issued an RFP to retain the services of a consultant to assess the current homelessness situation in municipalities throughout the Nipissing District and to make recommendations on how community services can move forward to respond to the identified needs. The assessment will review current services for unsheltered people across the district, including the low-barrier shelter in North Bay and street outreach services, and consider the need for a homelessness hub, as well as offer best practices in these areas.
"This collaboration is unlike anything in the province today," said King during Wednesday's meeting. "All of us all board members and past board members should be extremely proud of what we've been able to do here. We are ahead of the curve in establishing a model that deals with the root cause much of the homeless situation we see today and I want to especially thank [DNSSAB CAO] Catherine Matheson for her hard work that she's done in bringing both the Crisis Centre and North Bay Regional Health Centre on board at Northern Pines to make this happen."