‘As a community, we need to face this crisis. We need to call it out.’

city_scope_logo-cmykLast week in this corner we quoted from a letter Heather Stillitano, chair of the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy, directed toward Mayor Joe Preston and members of council.
She stressed, “the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.”
She went on to note, the opioid overdose crisis does not exist independently from other public health issues.
“For example,” Stillitano advised, “infectious diseases and other mental health concerns are highly associated with drug use.”
At the council meeting, Monday (Aug. 9) members spent several moments debating the implications of her correspondence.
Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands opened the discussion by acknowledging “I am fully supporting moving this motion forward.”
The motion in question isfrom BC-based Moms Stop The Harm urging council to endorse their call for the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and that the government “immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan.”

To which Mayor Preston responded, “I have a real rough time as the representative of the city of St. Thomas telling other levels of government what they should do better or worse.
“Individual people can do that and, of course, the Opposition can do that also in Parliament.
“I don’t really see where it is the role of the City of St. Thomas.”
He continued, “How about we just go for rehabilitation and detox and really look at how to solve the problem in a different way.”
Moms Stop The Harm logoStrange that on Feb. 10 of 2020, the mayor waded into what is generally considered federal territory when he voted to declare a climate emergency in St. Thomas.
And, we have to trumpet Coun. Baldwin-Sands comment during debate on the climate emergency motion.
“It takes bold community leadership to take action.”
Is there a lack of “bold community leadership” when it comes to the scourge of opioid overdoses?
Back to Monday’s discussion, Coun. Steve Peters commented, “Quite honestly, I was sort of hoping for more from the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy and not necessarily reiterating points made by other entities.
“I was hoping they would forward a made in St. Thomas-Elgin suggestion as to what we should be doing and not relying on outside data.

“And, it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. The other levels of government are not putting the money where their mouths are and so it is time to call them out and shake things up.

“Local people know best as to what we should or should not be doing.”
Back to Coun. Baldwin-Sands, who stressed “I think we need to, as a community, face this crisis. We need to call it out. We need to also give the dignity that is required in order to move things forward.
“And, that is what I think this whole process is trying to start. There is a crisis in this community and we need to start addressing it.”
“If we continue to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing,” cautioned Coun. Gary Clarke, “it’s not working.

“We’ve got to push a little bit here and let our voices be heard.”

“So maybe we need to shake things up a little bit and try to move things along. And, by addressing some of them, not all is going to happen, but it’s a chance to let the world know that it is a crisis.
“And, it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. The other levels of government are not putting the money where their mouths are and so it is time to call them out and shake things up.
“Even though we don’t control those dollars, we do represent the people and I think we’re hearing from individual families more and more.
“We’ve got to push a little bit here and let our voices be heard.”
That’s what bold leadership is about, right there.
The vote to support the motion was 8-1 in favour with Mayor Joe Preston the lone dissenting voice.
The fact the motion was approved but it was not a unanimous vote sends a mixed message to the long-suffering downtown merchants, shoppers, residents and those trapped in the opioid death spiral.
A closing reminder from Stillitano that Canadian youth “aged 15 to 24 are the fastest-growing population requiring hospital care from opioid overdoses.”

Related post:

Setting the switch to the appropriate track forward for the Elgin County Railway Museum


Tuesday’s vote is the beginning, however, any transformation of eight acres of brownfield adjacent to the Elgin County Railway Museum into a residential development is several years down the track.
Matt Janes, vice-president of the museum’s board of directors, says the vote to proceed with the sale of land to developer Doug Tarry was “overwhelmingly in favour.”
Speaking with Janes the day after the vote, he advised “there was good discussion at the meeting last night.
“There were some concerns but I think we’ve got a path forward that will address some of the concerns. Specifically, how we’re going to rebuild the rail yard and I think we’ve got an idea on how we’re going to work forward on that.
ECRM plaque“There was quite a bit of support for using the money to restore the museum building.”
Tarry – whose father was a founding member of the museum back in 1989 – spoke to members in an effort to allay their fears.
“He was really quite passionate about his vision for the residential development, but also for supporting the museum.”
While the membership vote was in favour of proceeding with the sale process, Janes cautioned there are still “big hurdles” to deal with.
“Primarily, Doug Tarry Limited has quite a bit of work to do in terms of environmental testing on the land and also working with the city on such things as the planning, access to the site and a number of things like that.
“It could be a year to two years before the actual deal closes.”

“this is a tremendous opportunity moving forward and we’re going to bring some really solid assets to the table manpower-wise to deal with revisioning things.”

As for remedial work on the museum building itself Janes advised, “the restoration of the building is still dependent on us having the money to do it.
“We can do planning, but to actually start major renovations is still going to be a while.
“We need to develop a clear plan for what needs to be done and in what order. We know we’ve got some funding from this sale . . . but the cost of renovating that building is well beyond just the $2 million we’re going to get from the sale.”
Tarry has offered the services of an individual to help proceed with grant applications for funding, something Janes notes “is hopeful.”
He continued, “This is just the first step. It represents a huge opportunity, but we have many challenges ahead.”
For Tarry’s part Tuesday evening, he says he tried to alleviate any fears expressed by members and reminded them, “this is a tremendous opportunity moving forward and we’re going to bring some really solid assets to the table manpower-wise to deal with revisioning things.
“I thought it was a really great meeting.”

“If we do what I believe we are capable of doing, this is going to be a model for sustainability. And it’s incredibly exciting to have the chance to do this.”

Speaking with Tarry on Wednesday (Aug. 11), he stressed the first order of business is an environmental assessment.
“We’ll be reaching out to our enviro team and get them started on the testing.”
And then meeting with city staff and council “to paint the larger picture of what this whole thing can mean.
“Obviously, we’re not even at concept design stage, it’s just broad-stroke concepts.
“I think we’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really create something amazing for downtown.
“I’m very honoured, but you can feel the responsibility, too.
“I’m seeing potential opportunity here for reimagining that area. It’s such a gem (the museum) and to have a chance to bring it forward to new heights is really exciting.
“If we do what I believe we are capable of doing, this is going to be a model for sustainability. And it’s incredibly exciting to have the chance to do this.”
The museum members certainly need to be applauded for having the courage to tap into Tarry’s vision, something he described as “an exciting synergy.”

Related posts:

Three decades after incorporation, could the son of a founding father offer a financial lifeline to the Elgin County Railway Museum?

Setting the switch to the appropriate track forward for the Elgin County Railway Museum


Wondering what’s in store for Walnut Manor now the residents have been evacuated?
The police brief this week says it all.
walnut manor fire“Police are investigating after a vacant building on Walnut Street was broken into sometime over the last few days.
“Thieves gained entry to the former assisted living facility by prying open a rear door. Two bicycles and a television were reported stolen from inside.”
The award-winning team at SupportiveLiving.ca appears to have abandoned the facility rather than spend money to bring it up to even the most basic of standards.
As to the residents, we can only hope their future looks brighter than the plight of their former home.


With a Sept. 20 federal election expected to be announced tomorrow (Aug. 15), who will represent the Liberal party in Elgin-Middlesex-London?
Five weeks is not much time to muster a game plan in an effort to unseat incumbent (and very popular) Karen Vecchio.


In response to last week’s item on the overdose crisis, Carrie Hedderson Smith writes there are too many social service facilities clustered in the city’s west end.

“If we don’t fix the drug/alcohol/mental health and homelessness problem nothing built downtown is going to reach full potential.
“Our city NEEDS to develop better planning and locations for all these supports and not just plunk them all in the west end. We are hard-working, taxpaying homeowners that take pride in our neighbourhoods.
“I think out of fairness, these supports need to be placed in many locations, not just one. When that is done it destroys the area surrounding it as the director problem grows and grows it seeps into beautiful and treasured heritage areas that citizens have spent so much money and effort caring for and saving and turning it into a different dynamic.
“This city has no respect for west end taxpayers. For some reason, we are chopped liver compared to Shaw Valley and Lake Margaret.”

Reader Michelle Auger responds to that with the following.

“Whilst I agree with much of your comment, outlying neighbourhoods mentioned are too far away from other amenities. Traditionally, social supports are located within the core to provide easy access to all.”

Commenting on the proposed sale of Elgin County Railway land to St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry, Rob Sterne has the following concerns.

“I’ve said this before, the “plan” that was presented to us was very, very vague with no defined property lines and associated costs.
“It appears we would have next to no green space and costs involved with removing and rebuilding the track have not been investigated.
“I know for a fact relaying track is surprisingly expensive. I bet at least half the money we get for the land would have to be used to do just that.
“I am not against some redevelopment of the property, but there are too many unknowns that have not been investigated.
“I would hope the membership would reject this on Tuesday and go back to the drawing board to come up with a much clearer plan.”

Still, with the land sale, Jennifer Neal Dunkerson passed along this cautionary note. For three years, she was the executive director of the Revelstoke (B.C.) Railway Museum and in 2012 moved on the become general manager of the Fort Steele Heritage Town near Cranbrook, B.C. She is now a planner with Heritage BC.

“This is quite a proposed project. But yes, be careful how you approach it. Don’t let the carrot of lots of sustainable money tempt you without clear direction.
“Any changes to or relaying of tracks or any access to the museum’s property should be cost covered by the developer. “Also, be careful of residential properties in close proximity, you may be facing noise bylaws and other issues in the future.
“Good luck and the museum needs to be in control.”

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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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