TIMMINS -- As emergency COVID-19 homeless shelter arrangements start to expire in Timmins, the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB) is looking for ways to adapt to the needs of the city's less fortunate during the pandemic.

An arrangement with Northern College to house around 30 people ended in late July — and fortunately, the social services board's chief administrative officer, Brian Marks, said permanent housing was found for all of them through the "Housing Now" program.

Now, DSSAB's partnership with the city to house people at the McIntyre Curling Club on Algonquin Boulevard is set to expire at the end of August. The shelter's hours have been rolled-back to a 12-hour model to free up volunteers to do other important work.

"Now we're able to use the staffing that (was) there to do outreach, monitor the downtown, pick up sharps, things like that," Marks said.

Leaning on community support

The contract with McIntyre Coffee Shop to provide low-cost meals to clients is also cancelled, Marks said, which means clients will be redirected to other charities in the city.

The Living Space shelter, which the Cochrane DSSAB operates, has had a large undertaking during this pandemic, Marks said. From providing outreach, housing, meals and sharp collecting, he said in order to sustain the demand from the homeless population, there needs to be a push to return to a pre-COVID level of support.

"We're trying to get back to the point where the Project Loves, the Lord's Kitchens, the Salvation Army get back to providing the meal service that they were before COVID," said Marks.

The Project Love charity recently reopened with takeout meals, with organizers saying it's the best way to reach the most people while being unable to accommodate indoor meal service.

Lynda Geddes, the organization's new director, said the charity has been fortunate to receive community donations of food, supplies, facemasks, even a barbeque grill. Project Love has also received a grant from United Way to support its operations for the next 12 weeks.

'More people at our door'

It has taken some adaptation to operate during this crisis Geddes said, but that it's necessary to keep supporting people in need.

"We will have more people at our door, we'll just respond with more each week as we go along," Geddes said. "A lot of it boils down to volunteer help."

She said the number of volunteers has dwindled due to many of them being cautious of the disease and uncomfortable with the potential risks involved.

However, she believes there is room to reflect on how charities have dealt with the challenges of this pandemic and sees the potential for all of the city's charities to potentially collaborate.

"I'm hoping we will all sit at the same table, when this is all said and done, and learn from this whole COVID experience," Geddes said. "Find out what have we done differently, what can we improve on, how can we economize with the resources we do have."

As the crisis progresses, Marks said there will be more challenges for shelters as winter approaches — and so there is pressure to work out a solution, including housing clients at the McIntyre Curling Club that will need other arrangements come September.

"While recognizing that COVID has put pressures on and we can't stay at the 'Mac' indefinitely," Marks said, "We need to start figuring out what's September going to look like and what's winter going to look like when we get to cold-weather alerts and housing people."