This past Monday was a busy day for Mayor Joe Preston as he noted the city was able to undertake a decade’s worth of work in a day.
Preston was referring to the city’s three-year strategic plan setting out priorities, guiding principles, goals and commitments as laid out at the Dec. 14 reference committee meeting.
One of the pillars of that plan is creation of a compassionate community and the commitment to build an emergency shelter for the homeless. It is to be constructed in a single location and be open by September of this year.
Well on Monday the city released a blueprint as it moves forward on its compassionate community strategic objective.
It’s a sweeping paper with many more objectives than just a homeless shelter.
The most immediate action point involves the city entering into a memorandum of understanding with Indwell Community Homes to develop supportive housing projects.
Indwell is a Christian-based charity that has built supportive housing for more than 700 individuals in London, Woodstock, Simcoe and Hamilton.
The first joint effort with the city will be construction of the 16 micro-apartments on the second floor of the downtown transit building.
The city has awarded a contract to Graceview Enterprises of Belmont for the $3 million undertaking made possible through funding from senior levels of government.
Preston notes Indwell “likes to work with a certain capacity in their buildings and the 16-unit micro-apartment is an ideal situation, but they need more than that in the community, so they will be doing much more than it.”
Indwell will be responsible for leasing the units and providing day-to-day support for the tenants.
‘They will be the operator,” noted Preston. “They know how to do supportive housing from a mental health and addictions point of view.
“Indwell has really been on some fantastic projects across southern Ontario. We’ve had them down a number of times to say what have we got here that you could be involved with? We love what you’re doing in other places and how can St. Thomas and Indwell find a marriage here?”
Jeffrey Neven, Indwell’s executive director, notes in the release from the city, “Putting feet to its heart of compassion, the City of St. Thomas has shown exemplary and determined leadership with this plan.
“We look forward to coming alongside the city, other service providers and the community to create supportive and stable and affordable homes in which people can thrive. Together, we can end homelessness.”
The micro-apartments are just the first chapter in an ambitious three-year program that is sweeping in its scope.
It includes acquiring the property at 10 Princess Avenue for use as a 24-hour emergency shelter with the potential for some permanent supportive housing units.
Once completed, Inn out of the Cold will transfer its overnight operations at Central United Church and use of the Mickleborough building as a day centre to the new emergency shelter.
The St. Thomas Police Service will open a community office in the building, replacing its downtown office in the tourism building at the L&PS replica station.
The emergency shelter is expected to be available in August of this year.
Indwell will work with the city on the development of Phase 2 of the 230 Talbot Street social services and housing hub now open.
“The city cannot ignore the fact that we have many individuals in crisis who find themselves very disadvantaged, homeless and who suffer from mental health and addiction issues.”
Facing Queen Street, the new structure will feature approximately 45 supportive housing units to be available within two years.
It will also have space put aside for a new fire substation to handle future development in the city’s northwest quadrant.
And, the city is looking at a possible new home for the food bank in a proposed three- or four-storey building to be erected at the northwest corner of Ross and Centre streets, north of the former CASO rail line.
The food bank would be on the ground floor with approximately 48 supportive housing units on the other floors.
The building ultimately would be owned and managed by Indwell with a hoped-for opening in about two years.
“The city cannot ignore the fact that we have many individuals in crisis who find themselves very disadvantaged, homeless and who suffer from mental health and addiction issues,” stressed Preston.
Of note, Canada Mortgage and Housing has calculated the affordable rent for a one-bedroom apartment in St. Thomas at $579 per month.
OIL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
No doubt a surprise to city administration and staff as a report presented to council this past Monday (Jan. 18) was challenged by several members.
The report from Adrienne Jefferson, Supervisor of Parks and Forestry, sought council’s approval to continue with the Canada goose management program at several city parks for an additional two years.
The current population control program is to oil the eggs with non-toxic oil to block air exchange through the pores in the eggs. This oiling prevents development into a gosling and hatching.
This method of control in 2016 replaced what is known as hazing, which is disturbing the birds so they will not reside in the area and nest.
Complaints from park users put an end to hazing.
The overabundance of Canada geese has been a problem in the Lake Margaret area in the past but the oiling seems to have had some impact in the last couple of years.
According to Jefferson, last year K9 pest management oiled about 300 eggs, most in the Lake Margaret area and Jefferson observed, “it was noted in reports that they have never seen numbers of eggs so high in such a small area.”
Does that imply the 2018 egg oiling program was less than a success?
“Enough already, it’s time to share our space with other sentient beings. And if they are perceived as being overabundant, we know there are other ways to deter geese.”
Well, led by Coun. Joan Rymal’s opposition, council voted to defer approval of the program extension while awaiting further information.
Seems some measure of credit needs to be directed toward Lake Margaret resident Deb Harris, who sent letters of concern to Rymal and Coun. Jim Herbert, although it remains to be seen whether the latter paid much attention to it.
Harris is no stranger to this corner. In Sept. of 2019, she waded into the Canada geese controversy around Lake Margaret with these observations.
“As a new resident to the Lake Margaret area, I was flummoxed. I was aware that some residents considered the geese a nuisance. But naysayers are always noticed above the silent majority as we all know the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
“So as I wandered through Lake Margaret during egg-laying season, I wondered where are these pesky geese? Yes, there were a few pairs on this quiet, warm day, but hardly the droves I was anticipating.
“The sidewalks were clean almost to the point of being pristine. I say that with disdain.
“Enough already, it’s time to share our space with other sentient beings. And if they are perceived as being overabundant, we know there are other ways to deter geese.
“It’s time to put an end to egg oiling or any other deterrents at this time.”
“There are several areas in the city where Canada geese can successfully nest without the interruption of the general public”
Those comments ruffled a few feathers and should she decide to formally present a report to council as a whole, February could prove an interesting month in the council chamber.
In her report, Jefferson advises, “Bodies of water, such as Lake Margaret which are surrounded by manicured lawns are a magnet to geese.
“A vegetation buffer of longer grasses and shrubs really could reduce the numbers of geese. They do not like dense vegetation at the pond edges since they can’t see predators.”
Jefferson concludes, “Implementing a proper Canada goose management program for consecutive years allows the birds to discover that in their current location, where oiling is occurring, their nesting habits are not successful, and they will choose to migrate to another area where they can raise their young.
“There are several areas in the city where Canada geese can successfully nest without the interruption of the general public, such as the stormwater management pond located next to the Douglas J. Tarry ball complex.”
No reason to nest here, let’s just move along.
LIGHTS, CAMERA . . .
We were the recipient of an email this week from railway advocate Bob Weare with a convincing pitch to link this city’s rail heritage to film and television production.
As an example, he mentions the ever-popular U.K. television series Heartbeat filmed in and around Goathland in North Yorkshire. The long-running series featured the North Yorkshire Moors Railway that operates from Grosmont to Pickering.
Weare suggests this area has many of the same rail attributes – the Elgin County Railway Museum, Port Stanley Terminal Rail with its picturesque Port Stanley station, the CASO station and L&PS replica station and in-use track between St. Thomas and Port Stanley.
Not to mention operational locomotives and cars.
An ideal locale for films, television and even commercials.
Weare correctly notes St. Thomas and environs have been the subject of shoots in the past.
And, he points to the Halton County Radial Railway near Milton with its collection of streetcars and interurbans.
Weare enthuses, “On the PSTR there are isolated areas that a movie camera could film dating back to pre-1915. With cuts and fills (and bridges) textbook perfect!”
Surely it wouldn’t be difficult – or expensive – to piece together a promo tape to pitch the readily-available-to-film benefits of the Railway City and beyond.
Both the city and county have touted the desire to attract tourism dollars. Like a magnet, Heartbeat over the years drew millions of visitors from around the world to Goathland and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
It can be done.
DDB GETS RIGHT TO THE POINT
Earl Taylor, chairman of the city’s Downtown Development Board has written a sharp letter of request to Southwestern Public Health about the ‘sharps’ problem in the downtown core.
The letter begins, “The merchants in downtown St. Thomas and the St. Thomas Downtown Development Board would like to make you aware there is a very serious discarded ‘sharps’ safety and litter problem in our city and especially in our downtown area.”
Taylor points to the health unit’s policy of distributing harm reduction supplies “as an effective method in reducing blood-borne infections associated with drug use.”
That policy outline also states the health unit shall “provide or ensure the availability of initiatives related to disposal of used harm reduction supplies.”
The health unit shall also “provide education to clients of the Ontario Needle Exchange/Syringe Program” while also providing “referrals to addiction treatment and other harm reduction services.”
Taylor and the DDB argue the health unit exceeds guidelines for distributing harm reduction supplies but “has implemented little or no parts” on the remaining guidelines, in particular disposal of used sharps.
As such, the DDB is requesting the health unit or any agent distributing sharps “immediately implement a clean-up program that matches the distribution. This clean-up ‘sweep’ to be completed by trained personnel each day before the start of the business through all downtown St. Thomas, on Talbot Street and behind each business.”
Furthermore, “Southwestern Public Health will immediately create a ‘call-in’ method to allow all persons finding discarded sharps at any time to report them for immediate clean-up by trained personnel.”
Also, “Southwestern Public Health will offer free-of-charge training and supplies to any business wishing to learn safe ‘sharps’ handling. This includes the Downtown Development Board’s litter pick-up team.”
Taylor signs off by reminding, “Downtown St. Thomas is a vibrant, fun place to shop, eat and visit. We know that with the help of Southwestern Public Health we will make it better.”
As per comments from Mayor Joe Preston at Monday’s council meeting, the letter will be dealt with in a Feb. 1 meeting with the health unit.
As Preston noted, the DDB requests “are similar to what we’ve been asking for.”
The DDB letter followed a discussion by council on a letter from Moms Stop The Harm, a Vancouver-based group dealing with the drug overdose crisis.
Council deferred a recommendation to support the group’s motion until more information is made available regarding decriminalization of drugs for simple possession.
This too will be discussed at the Feb. 1 meeting with the health unit.
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