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Ideas On Why There Is An Increase In Migration Of The Homeless To Thunder Bay

The LSPC/TBDSSAB PiT Count found that 65% of the homeless population are from out of town.

Knowing about the increase in migration of Thunder Bay's homeless population is vital to understanding its social climate. With this, you will be able to form your own opinion on the issue. This post provides some insight into why some people are choosing Thunder Bay as their new home.

Why are people moving to Thunder Bay?

The homeless migration to Thunder Bay is rising. Why? Two things: the social climate, and a lack of affordable housing in their home provinces.

Social Climate

When you look at statistics for homeless migration there is a pattern that can be seen in where people are choosing to go after leaving their home province. You see, when it comes to homelessness, the provinces that are offering better social services tend to attract more homeless people from other areas. In Ontario, one example of this is Thunder Bay. A report done by the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association indicates that "Ontario has been identified as having one of Canada's weaker social housing systems."

In this case, Ontario's social housing system is compared to that of Manitoba. In Manitoba, the province offers support for raising families, provides shelter allowances (including a rent supplement), supports employment and income assistance, and rental supplements. There are just a few reasons why they are a more attractive option for homeless people. So, naturally, as social housing has become more appealing to people who are homeless and living on the streets, they are choosing to move there.

In Manitoba, you can better yourself by using the supports and benefits they offer. Moving there also means that you will have a chance at being accepted into the housing that is affordable in cost. When you look at Ontario and Thunder Bay this is something that is a rarity. Housing costs in Thunder Bay are rising out of control with no signs of slowing down. The more comprehensive year-to-date median price was $285,200, an increase of 11.8% from the first 11 months of 2020. This means that many people who live here can afford to house anymore, let alone affordable housing.

With the rate of inflation in Thunder Bay, it's almost impossible to find a place to live that is affordable. This means that many people who are living here are forced to move elsewhere because they can't afford to house. The homeless migration from provinces such as Manitoba is a good indicator that the social housing system in Thunder Bay is not enough to handle the demand. This leads people to move out of provincial cities where they have better opportunities amidst better social services and lower housing costs. They can't afford to live in those places anymore.

Lack of Affordable Housing in Home Provinces

A second reason why people are moving to Thunder Bay is that it is one of the few places where affordable housing is available for them. They don't have much of a choice either. The average cost of housing in many other provinces like Ontario and Manitoba is too high for most people to afford on their own. The average sold price in Winnipeg for November 2021 was $355,765, which represents a modest 7% year-over-year increase. This means that families and individuals have no place to turn when it comes to affordable housing. Being homeless leads them to be less mobile and limits the number of provinces they can move within. Some leave everything behind, only taking what they need when they have no other choice but to move out of their home province.

What factors predict if the homeless will stay or leave?

Even if people are on the streets, they are not necessarily left homeless. At least in Thunder Bay, you don't have to live on the street to be homeless. It's also important to understand that homelessness doesn't just mean sleeping outside or staying at shelters. You might be homeless and still be provided with shelter, but never have a place you call home. When individuals and families can no longer afford housing in their home provinces, they have few options left but to go somewhere where affordable housing is still available, like Thunder Bay.

Social Services Needed by Many Homeless

In some cases, it might be difficult for someone living on the street to find food and cooking supplies, even if they have money of their own. A 24-hour store, a grocery store, or a supermarket might be out of reach. They might not have anyone to provide them with food or money either. This is why a lot of the homeless are resorting to stealing or begging. If they want access to those services, they must create connections and gain trust with people in the community who can help them in these ways.

Housing Not Always an Option

A lot of the homeless are living on the streets because they are trying their best to get into housing, but it's just not possible for them. Those who have been rejected from shelters, low-income housing, and other places for low-income people often find themselves on the street when all else has failed them. There is a very strong relationship between homelessness and low income. When you're homeless, finding affordable housing can potentially be impossible because of how difficult it can be to make ends meet. The bottom line is that if you are on the street and have nowhere else to go, you have no choice but to live there unless landlords and shelters provide housing for you in your home province. There are very few places in Canada where someone living on the streets can find affordable housing.

Low Income Flooding Thunder Bay

Affordable housing is not only getting more difficult to find, but it's also more expensive than it used to be. If people who are currently homeless were able to find an affordable place to live, they could start making something of themselves. With the right supports and assistance, they could get back on their feet. But many can't afford even the cheapest places to live in Thunder Bay right now. The average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is getting higher. This means that someone has to make more than $x/hour just to afford the rent alone if they must pay for it themselves.

People who are living on unemployment benefits or disability at the provincial level are not being provided with enough support to cover costs either. Their payments often don't cover their daily needs, especially when it comes to affording housing at this cost. The only people who can afford to live in Thunder Bay are the ones that have full-time jobs and don't have many expenses of their own. Even then, they are not making enough money to cover these costs.

With this in mind, it's no surprise that so many people who are homeless in Ontario and Manitoba find themselves on the move. They can't afford to house if they stay there. They know that if they do get into social housing here, they can improve their quality of life. At the very least they know how to access social services and what kind of support they can receive from those services if they need it badly enough.

Homelessness as a Choice

Although homelessness can be a result of many different factors, most people would agree that there is a choice when it comes to living on the streets. Many homeless people choose to be on the streets because they have no alternative. They feel that way because they have nothing left to offer those around them. This can force them to live in places where they know they will have access to services and supports that are not available in their home provinces. They feel that it's not fair for them to be forced away from their homes for others to stay there.

Why is the homeless choosing to stay here in Thunder Bay?

Digital Vibes predicts several reasons, in addition to the affordable housing crisis and availability of services, are driving these migrations:

1. There is a lack of affordable housing in our communities. This is a result of overdevelopment and urban sprawl — without proper planning, many communities have too much capacity for their growth. Changes that have occurred in land use regulations and urban design are pushing marginalized people towards isolated and remote areas. In addition, families are being uprooted from long-term affordable housing investments that were built decades ago. As no one knows where we’re going as a city, neither do we as governments know where people will be living in the future. This lack of understanding means that the providers and services that are needed don’t seem to be in place.

2. As a city and region we need to consider how we serve people living in poverty and marginalization, including those who are First Nations, Métis, or other Indigenous peoples. And yet the municipality has one of the lowest-funded programs for Indigenous peoples — when our priorities should be based on addressing homelessness and affordable housing concerns for all of our communities. People without homes in Thunder Bay are disproportionately from First Nation, Inuit, Métis, or other Aboriginal communities. The LSPC/TBDSSAB Survey found that a large number of people without a home in Thunder Bay are from a First Nations community. This is far higher than the proportion of the total population that identifies as being First Nations (66% identified as indigenous in the 2018 LSPC/TBDSSAB Survey PiT). It is also a significantly higher number compared to the previous point-in-time survey conducted in Thunder Bay in 2011. This means that First Nations people are overrepresented in the homeless population here.

3. As a municipality and as a province, we need to address things like housing affordability by looking at ways to increase public transit infrastructure and provide funding for subsidized housing. There needs to be more emphasis on how we tackle homelessness, with programs and initiatives that address the root causes of conflict, such as mental health and addictions. And, there needs to be a shift in services from emergency shelters to essential, longer-term housing supports.

DV predicts people are very concerned about how vulnerable populations who may not be able to access public transit can safely get around town. Mobility issues impact people’s ability to seek out help when they desperately need it. Several people who find themselves in crisis rely on family members and friends to help them get to the services that are currently available. It is crucial to increase opportunities for existing services to be located in areas where more vulnerable populations live. DV is very concerned about how vulnerable populations who may not be able to access public transit can safely get around town. Mobility issues impact people’s ability to seek out help when they desperately need it. Several people who find themselves in crisis rely on family members and friends to help them get to the services that are currently available. It is crucial to increase opportunities for existing services to be located in areas where more vulnerable populations live.

4. The changing migration patterns around psychiatric hospitals draw attention to the need for an integrated mental health strategy which includes housing support and other human services. The closure of psychiatric hospitals in Ontario has been a significant issue, with many of the patients being transferred to other facilities and a large number remaining homeless.

The migration of people into Thunder Bay has resulted in an increase in homelessness population and thus an increase in the need for programs and funding. -

Mental Health

The wide-scale closures of psychiatric hospitals in the region have resulted in an increase in homelessness population and thus an increase in the need for programs and funding. While many of these closures have been historical, we are also seeing a significant increase in the number of people who are being admitted to our emergency departments. This is affecting service levels for people living with mental health issues and creating barriers for these vulnerable individuals to access services. As well, it’s important to note that employment and income issues can contribute further to social isolation and stress, which may also lead to increased mental health issues and struggle to access services. For example, if people are living in poverty, or if they’re not finding adequate employment opportunities which pay enough to make ends meet, this can influence people’s mental health and distort the way they self-regulate their behaviors. This is an overarching issue within Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario.

Vulnerable Populations

The lack of affordable housing in communities has a significant impact on our vulnerable populations. A lack of affordable housing contributes to several issues such as overcrowding and crowding out of support systems, domestic violence, and other issues that may contribute to homelessness and other social problems. The decrease in affordable housing is also a contributing factor to the kind of population shift we are seeing at present. We are seeing people who previously may have been living in other regions such as Fort Frances, Red Lake, or Englehart moving to Thunder Bay. Of these locations, Fort Frances has seen the greatest reduction in social housing stock and population over the last several decades.

Living independently and wellness-oriented lifestyles

The lack of affordable housing in the region also contributes to an inability for people to live independently and wellness-oriented lifestyles. Poorly located urban areas which deny access to public transit, privately owned vehicles, and employment opportunities contribute significantly to health issues while increasing homelessness as well as poverty. The lack of affordable and accessible housing is a significant contributing factor to our rising homeless population and is a primary concern that many community organizations address every day.

Health, Family Support, and Community Involvement

It is important to also look at the effect of other social determinants on health, such as family support and community involvement. In Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario, these factors are under more strain than elsewhere in the province. For example, in this region, many family members are leaving to look for work elsewhere. This results in lessened access to care for those who may be unable to live independently but need help with activities of daily living. Support networks within families have also been impacted by employment changes and increased separation due to interprovincial migration. The result is that people are less connected with community services which may be needed as a result of these experiences.

The number of people living in poverty is also correlated to a variety of health issues. Those who are living in poverty are more likely to be affected by several issues including inadequate housing, homelessness, increased likelihood of substance abuse, mental illness, and physical disability. There is limited and expensive access to primary health care services which may not be as responsive to their needs as needed for those who are less marginalized. Poverty is apparent in the communities we serve with high levels of unemployment and low average incomes even among those who have jobs. In Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario region, our communities face many social determinant health challenges that go beyond the numbers discussed at this meeting.

The federal government must provide support for health issues in Canada’s north. Vulnerable populations must have access to adequate and timely health care. If several social determinants continue to be ignored, this region will continue to see an increase in non-communicable diseases and lifestyle-related illnesses. Many factors contribute to this issue including the lack of affordable housing, limited employment opportunities, low incomes, less community involvement and health services in the region, wider than normal rates of poverty, and social determinant factors such as family separation. Supporting and promoting investment in health at the community level, as well as funding and supporting programs that tackle issues such as poverty, family support, and mental health are essential to ensuring that our communities live in a healthy community.

According to CBC Thunder Bay, The Thunder Bay Regional Food Distribution Centre's food banks and feeding programs provide for the needs of over 1,300 people, as well as over 26,000 meals each month. Also according to @FeedOntario’s 2021 Hunger Report, the proportion of senior citizens accessing food banks has increased 36 percent over the last year.

Potential Recommendations

DV recommends that the Government of Ontario:

  1. Engage in ongoing, constructive dialogue with all stakeholders to determine the most effective way to effectively address the homelessness situation in or around Thunder Bay.

  2. Review the current funding formula and consider the feasibility of a multi-pronged approach to address all forms of homelessness in Thunder Bay, including transitional housing, with a focus on permanent housing.

  3. Reconsider all fee increases to CFS agencies and service providers as a result of provincial downloading.

  4. Recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all model for addressing homelessness for out-of-town clients and engage stakeholders in establishing standards of care for these populations

  5. Encourage all agencies and service providers for vulnerable populations to attend and participate in the Thunder Bay Homelessness Conversation.

  6. Engage local business and community leaders in the process to address homelessness in Thunder Bay and outline the need for a coordinated, long-term approach.

  7. Continue to work with local governments and service providers to support investments in those service delivery initiatives that can have a positive impact on housing and social supports, such as affordable housing, mental health services, addictions services, employment supports, and health care

  8. Continue to support the Thunder Bay and District Health Unit in their planning efforts with the help of all stakeholders to ensure that a coordinated, long-term approach is taken, which includes a Housing First strategy.

  9. Assist at-risk Manitobans and clients of service providers to make connections with people and services that can help them in their communities.

  10. Work in collaboration with the local municipal leaders to ensure that Housing First principles and practices are put into place within the city, region, and surrounding areas.

  11. Establish a vision for permanent housing targets, benchmarks, strategies, and outcomes.

  12. Develop an assessment tool to facilitate long-term planning by service providers to address homelessness in Thunder Bay using the Housing First model of services.

  13. Review its out-of-town client policy, particularly concerning complaints and appeals processes to ensure that they are consistent and timely in all regions of the province.

  14. Review the rules governing access to Ontario Works in regions that are experiencing homelessness, and ensure that they are consistent in all areas of the province.

  15. Review the funding formula for CFS agencies to ensure that resources are sufficient to address homelessness, particularly concerning service-enriched housing models.

  16. Review its out-of-town client policy, particularly concerning complaints and appeals processes to ensure that they are consistent and timely in all regions of the province.

DV Recommends that the City of Thunder Bay:

a. In partnership with other stakeholders, create a vision for permanent housing targets and benchmark plans aligned with provincial targets.

b. Develop a formal planning process with measurable outcomes and benchmarks for progress.

c. Engage the community at large, including local business and community leaders to actively participate in the development of a comprehensive housing plan for the City of Thunder Bay.

e. As part of an outreach program, provide housing and social supports to vulnerable populations that are experiencing homelessness in Thunder Bay.

f. Develop a Housing First initiative to have vulnerable populations housed immediately upon arrival in Thunder Bay without requiring them to find other services such as shelter or CFS.

DV Recommends that TBDSSAB

a. Consider the feasibility of a multi-pronged approach to address all forms of homelessness in Thunder Bay, including transitional housing, with a focus on permanent housing.

b. Consider creating a housing registry or database for the homeless in Thunder Bay who do not have permanent housing, so TBDSSAB can use that registry to collaborate with community organizations, and with municipal and provincial governments to address the issue of homelessness in Thunder Bay.

The LSPC should work with the homeless from out of town by:

a. Meeting with them regularly to learn more about their backgrounds

b. Providing transportation home when the homeless who are from out of town

c. Connecting them with the resources in their hometowns for when they are confident to go back on their own

d. Collecting data on why they left and what would keep them in Thunder Bay longer

e. Providing support for follow up work once they have returned home

f. Seeking input from local shelters, drop-ins, and outreach workers who are familiar with Out of Town Homelessness in Thunder Bay

g. Promoting Thunder Bay as a destination for Out Town Homeless people to return home

h. Implement an outreach strategy that would offer multi-faceted services to reduce the number of Out Town Homeless people in Thunder Bay

In partnership with the local service providers, develop a comprehensive plan that takes into account the strengths of out-of-town clients and aligns their needs with those of Thunder Bay clients. The plan should include:

  • a housing strategy that includes the establishment of an outreach program and capacity building;

  • the establishment of a housing assessment tool;

  • the development of standards of care for vulnerable populations.


As such, it is apparent that the provincial and federal governments need to provide more funding and support to address the social determinants in our communities. There is a significant amount of work to be done on several fronts to ensure that people are living healthy, empowering, and stable lives. Residents have known for some time that there was a great need for affordable housing. It’s time for the federal government to make sure that programs are being funded that continue to enable people in our region, especially those who are most vulnerable, to find access to adequate and timely health care. The federal government must also help with addressing social determinant issues by providing more support at the community level through initiatives such as shared services models and employment strategies.

Thunder Bay was the first place in Canada that I thought they may be a problem. It is good to hear that some of the other communities are seeing an increase as well. This is a federal issue and provincial issue as well. The federal government has historically been a leader in addressing these social determinants and they must continue to work in partnership with local governments as well as organizations like community center networks, to ensure that people have safe and stable living conditions.

Let me know what you think in the comments or email DV The blog post will be updated over time with new ideas, information, and feedback!

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