Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford has made a stop in Timmins to meet and thank the team behind the Fire Keeper Patrol program.
Rickford said he wanted to meet the team face-to-face and acknowledge their “great work”. Wednesday afternoon, he met with Mushkegowuk Council’s director of health Sylvina Rickard and the Fire Keeper Patrol program co-ordinator Virginia Sutherland.
Earlier this year, Mushkegowuk Council’s Fire Keeper Patrol program secured funding from the provincial and the federal government.
The program received $1.1 million from the federal government and $1.3 million from the province. The mobile street outreach program will provide 24/7, year-round services to homeless people struggling with addiction in Timmins.
“I can say, $1.3 million is a lot of money but it’s more about the people who are prepared to do the work, the people who are going to be supported by this,” Rickford said. “And I just wanted to come and say hello to you folks because Zoom doesn’t do justice.”
Various community partners will be working on the project including the City of Timmins, Wabun Tribal Council, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Porcupine Health Unit, Timmins Native Friendship Centre, Timmins Living Space, Red Cross and more.
Rickford said one of the most things that excited him the most is that the program was not unprecedented, referring to similar initiatives in Kenora and Manitoba.
“We built a better, I think, model and I hope by all the accounts it looks like you’ll enhance the vision,” he said.
Timmins Mayor George Pirie was also on hand.
“It’s the Indigenous leadership that set up and said, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this,’” he said. “I’m anxious to see what the folks do here in Timmins, really anxious. It’s great news.”
Sutherland, who recently started her position, said the program is getting off the ground and she has looked at two facilities to house the program. She plans to have eight patrols on the ground who are expected to start working in September.
Rickard thanked the minister for coming by and said she’s looking forward to what comes out of the program.
“Indigenous people can champion this program. We’re looking at the bigger scope of this project. We want to integrate our services here under health to provide an opportunity for clientele to see that Indigenous people are serving Indigenous people,” she said. “It’s very important to have that visibility.”
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Timmins Today. LJI is a federally funded program.