Addressing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues . . . how do we collectively get on the same page?


city_scope_logo-cmykHe’s lived in the downtown core for 29 years and Steve Peters recounts over that time, “either sitting in my front window and watching the traffic on the street or sitting on my deck and hearing the traffic, things have changed.”
Boy, have they ever and Coun. Peters begins to open up on the challenges people face in finding a place to live in the heart of St. Thomas.
How much of that is due to what is referred to as the gentrification of downtown neighbourhoods?
“In the core area, the number of retrofits I have seen and continue to see,” suggested Peters.
“I am aware of a family that has had to move out of their place because the building has been sold and the new owner is coming in and is going to spend a lot of money to upgrade the place.
“I can look at a house beside me that is a fourplex and changed hands about four years ago and the new owner I bet spent over $200,000 or more and where this fourplex was probably renting for $600 is now renting for $1,200 plus utilities.”

Peters agrees wholeheartedly, gentrification in the core is very real. In the process pushing once-affordable accommodation out of the reach of many lower-income individuals and families.
He continues, “We as a council have worked hard to do our part and now, perhaps, we’re into areas where the city was not historically involved.

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“We went through a federal election where we heard lots of talk about investments that need to be made in housing and I’m sure we’re going to hear it again (in next year’s provincial vote).
“I look at some of the housing complexes we have like Eastwood, and we haven’t had any new affordable housing complexes constructed in probably 25 years.”
It’s the multo-layered question of what is the definition of affordable?
Reminds us of the sign spotted not that long ago on the perimeter of a new subdivision boldly claiming, ‘Affordable family living starting in the low $500,000s.’
Peters notes, “We have a segment of the population that is on a disability pension or Ontario Works, but that definition of what was affordable even five years ago is not applicable today.

“I think the upper levels of government have got to really get serious about what they are doing on the housing front.”

“You look at how quickly the micro-apartments (Railway City Lofts on Talbot Street) were filled. And how quickly 230 Talbot Street was filled.
“Gentrification has taken away a lot of what I would call affordable housing opportunities for people.”
Many of the older apartment units where the rent is in the $650 range per month, once they become vacant it can easily double, further reducing the stock of affordable housing.
And what about any controversial move in the future to allow ground-floor residential development along Talbot Street?
It is now allowed at the very west end of that thoroughfare.
Peters asks, “Is this a direction we want to go in?
“Then we’re taking away commercial opportunities. We need all the players sitting around the table for that discussion.
“I think the upper levels of government have got to really get serious about what they are doing on the housing front.
“The private developers are looking for a return on investment and the upper levels of government can be in for the longer haul and may not need as great a return.
“I just don’t see the private sector filling that void.”
And with Inn Out of the Cold moving to its new home on Princess Avenue this month, allowing for a year-round emergency shelter, are we putting all our eggs in one basket? That this 40-plus bed facility will put a significant dent in the homelessness situation downtown.

“I want to be part of the solution and I know we have a mayor and a council and administration that want to be part of the solution.”

How do you convince people with addiction or mental health issues to attend the shelter?
“We can come to the table and create partnerships to develop things like the Inn, but individuals have to want to go to the Inn.
“And understand, for the safety of others, rules do need to be in place.
“And I think there is an element of the population that doesn’t want to do that.”
Which begs the question how many people are living under various bridges in the city?
Is St. Thomas ripe for some of the encampments springing up in Toronto, Hamilton, London and right across the country?
London is preparing temporary facilities on city property to safely house the homeless over the winter.
“This isn’t just a St. Thomas issue,” stresses Peters, “this is something every community is grappling with.”
But we all need to get on the same page when it comes to affordable housing, homelessness, addiction and mental health issues, offers Peters.
“And I don’t think that’s the case right now.
“I want to be part of the solution and I know we have a mayor and a council and administration that want to be part of the solution.”

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THE FISH ARE SAFE NEXT YEAR

When we last gazed upon Lake Margaret canoes could be seen here and there gliding across the surface. Fishing lines were angled upward, some of them out of season, unfortunately.
Will this idyllic scene play out next year?
Perhaps not entirely.
A review of approved recreational activities at Lake Margaret is on city council’s agenda for Monday’s (Dec. 13) meeting.
Members are being asked to approve the continuation of non-motorized recreational boating next year, however, fishing would not be permitted until a Fish Community Assessment is undertaken and a report is presented to council late next year.
Lake Margaret shoreline buffer graphicIn other words, what is the nature and extent of the fish population in the lake?
According to a report from Adrienne Jefferson and Jeff Bray in the parks, recreation and property department, “This assessment will establish a baseline population that is critical to determine how much fishing the lake can handle before existing fish stocks are depleted. If council approves proceeding with the study, it would be completed late next summer.
Following that, “the next recommended step is a benthic survey and aquatic habitat assessment. The received data will confirm if the existing habitat can support the current and future fish populations.
“This will be important if there are plans to stock the lake to increase fish populations.”
Benthic ecology is the study of organisms that make up bottom communities (sediments, seagrass communities and rock outcrops) in lakes, streams and other bodies of water to determine environmental health.
The study would cost just over $13,000.

“Our main goal is compliance through education and most of the time that approach is effective. I can with certainty say that we have not had repeat adult offenders.”

As a follow-up to fishing at Lake Margaret this year, the report notes “Bylaw enforcement has conducted numerous patrols, generally twice a week (both proactive and reactive to complaints) throughout the summer.
“We did not note a significant amount of violations, and most violations were due to the restrictions with regard to fishing (out of season or not in a permitted area), and most of the offending persons were teenagers/children.
“After speaking with them, most of the time they did end up complying but a few that would return to fish the next day regardless (happened a few times). Overall, the vast majority of violations with regard to fishing were perpetrated by minors.
“Regarding violations, we don’t actually ‘issue’ anything to the person unless we charge them under the bylaw.
“Our main goal is compliance through education and most of the time that approach is effective. I can with certainty say that we have not had repeat adult offenders.”
It’s interesting that in June of this year, Jeff Bray was asked by Coun. Jim Herbert about issuing tickets and he responded, “I can’t say how many tickets have been issued. I know bylaw enforcement has been out there and I can check with them.
“I know the Ministry of Natural Resources has been very active there and they have been issuing lots of tickets.
Bray continued, “Yesterday alone they levied 10 charges, not all related to fishing. Some were for people in a canoe and not having life jackets.”
So Monday’s report may paint a rosier picture than reality suggests.
In summary, the report advises “Concerns regarding fishing and boating violations were received predominantly from three residents that reside on the lake.”
So, non-motorized boating is a go for next year and the fish are off the hook for the coming season.

Related posts:

The biggest catch so far at Lake Margaret . . . those fishing illegally

The Lake Margaret debate: Coun. Steve Peters argues for ‘healthy living and healthy lifestyle for the environment’

IN THE MOOD TO PARTY?

Given the COVID-19 case counts and health unit recommendations to limit gatherings over the holiday season, what impact will that have on New Year’s Eve celebrations?
Contingent on council approval Monday, the free bus service will again be offered this year, with bus stop to bus stop service running from 9:45 p.m. New Year’s Eve until 3:15 a.m. New Year’s Day.
In addition, overnight parking restrictions will be lifted at that time to encourage staying overnight rather than driving after drinking.

HOPE COMES IN TINY PACKAGES

With a greater focus of late on homelessness and affordable housing, there is a glimmer of hope deep in council’s agenda package.
There is a request from Project Tiny Hope for $3 million from the city and to fully waive developmental charges so that the project can proceed next year.
The undertaking is a collaborative effort involving YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, Doug Tarry Homes and Sanctuary Homes.
Project Tiny Hope ranch style homeIt will consist of a dozen single bedroom, ranch-style and eight, two-storey, two-bedroom homes plus a four-storey, 20-unit apartment building to be located on the vacant lot at 21 Kains Street, the former home of Elgin Handles.
When completed in December of 2023, the project will create 40 units of affordable housing with 10 rent-geared-to-income units.
The aim is to have tiny homes available for youth, women, adults, seniors and families with children in need of affordable housing within a supportive community, according to the letter to council from Lindsay Rice with the YWCA.Project Tiny Hope loft style home
The property will include a communal garden, a recreation area, a naturalized playground, a large community room, a teaching kitchen in the apartment building and staff offices and counselling rooms.
Construction is to begin next spring with up to a dozen tiny homes completed in what Doug Tarry refers to as “a blitz build.”
These rental homes will “provide comfort, dignity and safety to individuals and families in need of affordable housing in a supportive community environment.”
You can find out more about Project Tiny Hope here.
All that’s missing is council’s approval on the $3 million ask.

Related post:

Tiny homes hold a big vision for a more vibrant St. Thomas

THE ECHO CHAMBER

Our roving transportation consultant, Isabelle Nethercott, forwarded us a copy of an email she sent to all members of city council. Does she make a good point in how many of them have ridden around St. Thomas on Railway City Transit?

“Following the council meeting of November 1, I was pleased to hear about the earlier start time planned for On-Demand which will accommodate factory workers.
“I also note that the Swiss Chalet stop has been moved about 100 feet west and is now in front of the Beer Store. However, I doubt that any of the drivers were consulted in the move, as it still does not allow enough room to merge back into the left-hand turn lane.
“This morning, a sub driver on the Northside route bypassed the stop by turning early (thereby not following the actual route the bus is supposed to take). When questioned, he advised that he had been instructed not to stop at that stop. He then called in to the dispatch and I heard them confirm that yes, only the Talbot and Fanshawe routes were to stop there.
“Well, what was the point of moving the stop at all then? Those two routes were already able to stop at the previous location.
“As a hard-working, tax-paying citizen and daily transit user, I am so disappointed and frustrated by the new system. I still have not heard any explanation for the 15 on-demand-only stops that are only available after hours and not through the day and I am still impacted daily by the change to hourly service.
“Downgrading all but one corridor of the city to hourly routes is, in my opinion, substandard service.
“I would like to reiterate the challenge I put forth back in my first email of April 21; that every member of city council, and everyone who had a voice in the implementation of this new system tries it themselves. “Even if you don’t actually get on the bus, sit down with the route guide and figure out how to get where you need to go every day.
“Try and see how it works for you.”

Isabelle let’s take that challenge one step further. Several years back City Scope invited members of council over to the old police station to show them what it was like to work in that facility.
It was an eye-opener for those who attended.
So, why not organize a similar outing and get reaction right on the bus?
I’m up for a bit of an adventure so let’s throw out the invite to members of council to participate in the Great City Scope ride-along?

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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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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