NORTH BAY -- The District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB) says the crisis centre and low-barrier homeless shelter have been experiencing and "overflow" of those needing services since Jan. 1.

It’s a concern that continues to worry staff.

“We haven’t been turning individuals away, especially during the cold winter nights,” said Stacey Cyopeck, the board’s director of housing programs. “With the pandemic, that’s not something we want to be doing.”

In early February, officials saw a record high of 80 people accessing shelter services at both the crisis centre and low-barrier shelter. On average, there are between 2-17 people in overflow looking for low-barrier shelter beds after it is full. Up to 30 people try to access the 12 spaces at the crisis centre.

“The low-barrier shelter has been at or over capacity,” said Cyopeck. “We worked with the operator and we started housing individuals in motels and worked with the site to set up overflow spaces.”

Extra spaces

Ten extra spaces were created by the DNSSAB at the Chippewa St. shelter. The DNSSAB is edging closer to opening up The Gateway House beside the low-barrier shelter. Sixteen transitional units will be available for those in need of affordable housing.

“The pandemic has affected the capacity in the system to house individuals,” said Cyopeck. “We’re anticipating that it should be occupied probably in the summer.”

The Nipissing Mental Health Housing and Support Services is the current operator of the low-barrier shelter. The organization will be relinquishing its operation starting in May. From there, the crisis centre will take over.

CTV News reached out to the crisis centre for more details on the transition. It said it is still in the "planning stages."

Meanwhile, the Low Income People Involvement of Nipissing, a non-profit organization that assists low-income and vulnerable individuals to prevent homelessness and assist those at risk of homelessness, said it’s not surprised the shelters are at full capacity.

“We have to look at do we want to increase the number of crisis short-term beds or do we want to look at why people are struggling and what when we can do to stop that,” said executive director Lana Mitchell. “It’s definitely not a surprise right now.”