A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place Thursday to officially mark the opening of Northern Pines, the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board's transitional housing campus located on Chippewa Street West.
The various dignitaries in attendance remarked on the hard work that went into getting the project to this point while acknowledging there is much more to be done to ensure the clients entering the transitional housing program come out the other side with the life skills, employment opportunities, and housing for it to truly make a difference.
Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, Mayor Al McDonald, and DNSSAB Board Chair Mark King spoke and also saluted entrepreneur Jimmy Kolios who owns the former OPP property where Northern Pines is now situated, saying his financial backing was essential in seeing the project come to fruition.
"This is by far one of the best days I've ever had as a city councillor and as the Chair of DNSSAB. I know we are doing the right thing," a beaming King told the crowd. King thanked DNSSAB CAO Catherine Matheson, NDHC Chair Dave Mendicino, and DNSSAB Vice-Chair Dan Roveda for their leadership throughout the Northern Pines process.
While construction continues at Northern Pines, there are already clients occupying several of the transitional housing units. There are eight units per wing on two separate floors of the former police headquarters. Each room is outfitted similar 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 (see photos above). These 16 Phase 1 units 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, which is under construction and scheduled to open later this year, offers 24 units with a high level of support, at a cost of $2.8 million to build.
The entire operation is operated by the Crisis Centre and overseen by DNSSAB with security sub-contractors also present on site. The 21-bed low-barrier shelter, housed in portables in the yard next to Chippewa Street West, remains in use, with some clients identified to move to the transitional housing phases inside the building. Social services officials say those 21 beds are regularly occupied with some overflow spending nights in motel rooms.
Some community members have questioned the decision to build the DNSSAB campus across from Chippewa Intermediate and Secondary School, with another school a short distance away and seniors' residences nearby but the social services organization and school board have attempted to reassure students and their families that safety is not an issue.
“Today’s announcement is in addition to the over $12 million Social Service Relief Funding that DNSSAB has received from the Ontario government since April 2020,” says Fedeli. “This funding has helped keep vulnerable people housed and create long-term housing solutions.”
King also pointed to Mayor Al McDonald's roundtable of social services organizations as having played a large part in the development of a proposal for what later became known as Northern Pines. "I can tell you the response from ministers during that period of time at the provincial level was tremendous."
McDonald, in turn thanked "our partners at the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board for their work in opening these new transitional housing units to vulnerable individuals in our community. Our residents in need will not only have access to housing, they will also receive services and support. This wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance and ongoing investment of the provincial government."
In 2022 budget deliberations, DNSSAB staff issued a warning to board members about next year's operating budget. Without any new funding sources for the Northern Pines, it would need to be funded by the levy. "This could result in an estimated municipal levy increase of approximately 11.51 per cent in 2023."
Asked Thursday about future operating expenses, King maintains DNSSAB will continue to advocate for funding at the upper levels of government and expects their full support.