Is a new, permanent emergency shelter pivotal to addressing the homelessness dilemma in St. Thomas and Elgin?

city_scope_logo-cmykEarlier this week, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek announced $928,000 in funding to support the purchase of a new building for a permanent emergency shelter.
A facility Yurek noted that will be, “a stable facility from which dedicated local service providers can continue to carry out their important, lifesaving work.”
Such a shelter was one of the areas touched upon last month during a meeting between Mayor Joe Preston and downtown merchants who vented their frustration with the lack of attention paid to the plight of the homeless in the core area.
What Preston referred to as “solving the problems of the people causing the problems.”

In addition to the permanent emergency funding, the provincial support announced this week will also provide operating funding for rent relief.
In a conversation Tuesday, city manager Wendell Graves says the city is looking at many options at this time.

downtown merchants meet with Joe Preston 2 Sept 24-20“We really want to think about what a shelter is really all about,” advised Graves.
“And, what supportive assistance should be included with it.”
The latter being of critical importance. What is of vital need is more than just a place to crash and get a hot meal.
Not to denigrate the work being done by Inn Out of the Cold – they truly fall into the lifesaver category – and Graves stressed they will be working with Lori Fitzgerald, executive director of the existing homeless shelter.
“Discussions with Inn Out of the Cold will be really important in this whole area,” advised Graves.
“They are providing an unbelievable service to the community in providing the services they are now.”
In a media release Fitzgerald noted, “During COVID, it has become very apparent that expanded services for those experiencing homelessness in our community is a vital need.”
We asked Graves about the location for the permanent shelter and whether it could be in an existing building such as the former Ontario Works offices in the Mickleborough building on Talbot Street.

“It has never been more critical that our most vulnerable neighbours in St. Thomas have access to safe and warm shelter.”

At one time, thought had been given to transforming the attractive structure into apartments.
“We’re looking at many options at this point in time,” noted Graves. “There are lots of options and we have to confirm by next March where we’re heading with this to the province.
“We want to do it sooner than that but I think the timeline is next March. We’re certainly working diligently on it.”
During that dialogue with merchants in September, questions were raised about what, if anything, can be done by police to deal with homeless individuals loitering in back alleyways.
Pointing to a sign warning about loitering Preston noted, “I guess we could go and arrest them all and they would be back on the street in about 15 minutes.”
In the media release accompanying the funding announcement, St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge observed, “This shelter will provide protection and safety to those who need it most. Our service will continue to work with our strong community partners to ensure the protection and safety for all who live and visit our city.”
With clear indications winter is looming – and amid a global pandemic, no less – Yurek stressed, “It has never been more critical that our most vulnerable neighbours in St. Thomas have access to safe and warm shelter.”



There have been promises and announcements throughout 2020 aimed at hauling the city’s rickety transit system into the 21st century.
Are we any closer to that reality?
The agenda for Monday’s (Nov. 2) council meeting offers hope.
Members of council are asked to approve spending $214,000 for the purchase of software needed to implement the Demand Responsive Transit (DRT) portion of the revamped bus system.
St. Thomas Transit Via to TransitIn August of this year, the city received $2.2 million in federal funding for the purchase of zero-emission buses and other improvements to transit operations, one of those being DRT.
Demand-responsive transit traditionally employs buses and other vehicles operating not on fixed routes or timetables but running based on customer demand.
The winning bidder – out of six submissions – is Via Transportation, a mobility solutions firm with international experience including 45 transit operations throughout North America.
Working with Via, here is what is envisioned for the first quarter of next year:

St. Thomas Transit Q1 2020 transit coverage• Mon. to Fri. – conventional service from 7:15 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. plus DRT from 5:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.
• Sat. – conventional from 9:15 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. plus DRT from 5:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.
• Sun. – conventional from 9:15 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
• DRT zones in Industrial, Dalewood, and Millers
Pond at all hours that transit is running (shaded areas)
• Greater ridership autonomy, booking, and payment experience.
• Increased efficiencies by improved utilization of transit buses
• Digital management of parallel rider records
• Web and cellphone app-based booking
• Digital payment of booked rides. Ability to adjust the system, including regional transit.

In his report to council, manager of roads and transportation Matthew Vriens advises deployment and testing will take place this winter “to ensure all systems are functioning with the anticipated go-live date for Q1 2021; coinciding with our route change over.”
Testing any new system over a Canadian winter, is that not the ultimate?



We touched bases with city manager Wendell Graves this week on the request for proposal (RFP) for the new EarlyON Child and Family Centres’ delivery model in St. Thomas and Elgin County.
Graves confirmed the current provider, Community Living Elgin (CLE), could bid on “one, two or all three of the delivery areas.”
EarlyOn logoThose being east, central and west geographic areas of the county.
And, what about the city being able to put in place the new provider(s) by the Jan. 1, 2021 deadline, as the current contract with CLE expires at the end of the year?
This being critical for a seamless transition.
“I’ve talked with Heather Sheridan, director of social services about that and I think there are lots of various tools that are available and they are exploring all of that to keep things as consistent as they can.
“They are under consideration for sure.”
It all pivots back to those “unintended consequences” alluded to by the city manager.

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You would think after their years-long struggle to secure a school for Belmont – and in the process keeping two other threatened schools open – area residents would be able to rest secure in the knowledge their sacrifices are now in the past.
Well, thanks to a reckless gamble by Thames Valley District School Board trustee Jake Skinner, they were forced to rise to the occasion one more time.
Skinner_Jake-2018smlSkinner put forth a motion at Tuesday’s (Oct. 27) board meeting to delay construction of the $8.7 million elementary school – already approved by the province – in hopes of securing a larger school housing 507 students.
That evening, Central Elgin Ward 5 Coun. Fiona Wynn – who has fought the good battle to land the 354 pupil place school for over a decade – laid it on the line for Skinner.
“To say I was disappointed when I heard of Mr. Skinner’s intent to bring this motion forward . . . would be a bit of an understatement.”
She went on to convey the concerns of Central Elgin council to Skinner and the rest of the trustees.
“Any delay in the build of the new Belmont school could, of course, jeopardize the funding and approvals from the provincial government, but it could also jeopardize the negotiations to secure the school site.

“I would love the opportunity to host you all in our lovely community at a ground-breaking in the near future.”

“There really is no other location within our settlement area to build this school, so if we lose the current site due to Mr. Skinner’s motion to delay construction, we feel we will lose the school and we’ll be back to Square 1.”
She went on to stress to Skinner the residents of the communities involved are “very frustrated and deeply concerned about the future of this school and their children’s education.”
You have to admire her parting words to the London-centred school board trustees.
“I would love the opportunity to host you all in our lovely community at a ground-breaking in the near future.”
Earlier that day in London following the announcement of a new school to be constructed in that city, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek was asked about Skinner’s planned motion.
He noted he had been made aware of Skinner’s social media campaign.
“I’m proud that Belmont, after decades, is getting a new school and we were able to keep two other rural schools open.
“I leave it to the trustees to continue to work with their communities and advocate for the needs of their children and send their ideas and capital projects forward to the ministry of education.
“It’s important to have investments in rural Ontario.”
In the end, Skinner’s construction delay motion suffered an ignominious defeat in that none of his peers would step forward to second it.

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From the let’s-beat-a-dead-horse file, Monday’s (Nov. 2) reference committee agenda comes with this item, “Council will discuss with administration the 2021 council grant process.”
Much like the year we are enduring, we can only surmise the 2020 model of the council grant process came up short on expectations.
We can only hope council has moved well on from the 2019 whack-a-mole
grant model of 2019.

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


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