‘We have got to find a way for The Inn to be a better neighbour to its neighbours’ – St. Thomas Councillor Steve Peters


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city_scope_logo-cmykDiscussion on the status and future of the city’s emergency shelter, The Inn, consumed more than an hour of Monday’s (July 11) council meeting.
It resolved little but revealed much.
Margaret Barrie, chair of the board of directors and Pastor Cherisse Swarath, Interim Executive Director, Inn Out of the Cold, in a deputation to council updated members on progress at the shelter in its new location and then fielded a bevy of questions from councillors.
Many of those questions were prompted by a letter to Mayor Joe Preston from Brad Beausoleil, who owns several properties in St. Thomas, including 6 Princess Avenue which is adjacent to The Inn.
We delved into that correspondence two weeks ago and there is a link to that post below.
And, Beausoleil forwarded this corner a follow-up email with his impressions of the delegation which we will deal with in the following item.

But, back to the presentation.
Barrie’s portion of the talk should have been challenged further by councillors.
Her assertion St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is located downtown – presented by Barrie to support her claim social services need to be located in the core area – is a wild stretch of reality.
Perhaps the first duty of Coun. Jim Herbert – who grovelled his way onto the shelter’s board of directors – would be to take the chair on a tour of the city to point out the location of our hospital.
The Inn St. Thomas Elgin Jan 25-22Worse still was the contradiction of Barrie’s claim The Inn is full to 40-bed capacity most nights by her cohort Swarath.
On more than one occasion, Barrie insisted there is no more room at the facility, even though we are in the middle of summer when the need for beds should be diminished.
Swarath made it abundantly clear when she pointed out “Our capacity is not always brimming. Weather does play a factor in that.
“It’s a work in progress on a daily basis. We can’t really determine a trend. It’s really an anomaly right now.
“The numbers are up and down and it is contingent on weather.”
It would behoove a member of council to contact city staff to get a daily or weekly numbers count from The Inn to clarify how many beds are occupied each night.
Could it be the shelter is operating at half capacity on a fairly regular basis?
This might be a good task for new board member Coun. Herbert to report to council.
From the lengthy discussion, it appears the ongoing problem areas include the need for a second security guard to patrol the outside perimeter.
Not something that is the purview of city police, as made abundantly clear by Chief Chris Herridge later in the meeting.
“We cannot be security for The Inn,” stressed Herridge. “I have to try and make that clear right now. We are a team for the entire downtown and we are there for everyone in the downtown.
“Of course, we will make our presence known at The Inn and surrounding area to address the issues that are occurring there.”
There is very limited locker space at The Inn and so clients keep shopping carts full of possessions outside the building.The Inn interior 1
Also because of minimal space, clients do not have their own private accommodation but, instead, must share a bunk bed, separated by dividers.
This prompts the question, is the shelter appropriately designed and even more important, is it even in the best location?
Barrie said it herself.
“We don’t have 40 spaces to put people in. So that means we need a different building.”

“I think it’s very important that we keep in mind that the solution to homelessness is not an emergency shelter. The solution to homelessness is housing and housing with supports.”

Exactly what downtown merchants – who were not involved in the initial discussions about the shelter – have said all along. It’s the wrong building in the wrong place.
Something Coun. Gary Clarke alluded to when he noted, “As we start to look at new projects, there needs to be a shift to another location which might serve everyone’s needs, better.”
Shedding the greatest light on matching resources to need was Danielle Neilson, the city’s homelessness and housing supervisor.
“I think it’s very important that we keep in mind that the solution to homelessness is not an emergency shelter.
“The solution to homelessness is housing and housing with supports.
“And, in our community, we have plans, not only in place or being considered, but actions that are working.
“And, we have lots to be proud of in St. Thomas.”

“Because they are very skilled at opening things and breaking locks. They can get into just about anything. They have the tool kits for it.”

You have to look no further than the housing projects underway or completed with Indwell.
Neilson also referenced a decline in the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness which we will delve into next week.
What could be argued was the most disturbing allegation of the discussion dealt with the lack of locker space for individuals.
Barrie responded to a query from Coun. Jeff Kohler with, “As far as lockers go, we do have lockers but we’re in the midst of trying to find a lock that cannot be broken.
“Because they are very skilled at opening things and breaking locks. They can get into just about anything. They have the tool kits for it.”
That sweeping generalization should have prompted an immediate response from a councillor or Mayor Joe Preston for an explanation or clarification.
It went unchallenged.

“We have got to find a way for The Inn to be a better neighbour to its neighbours. There are too many outstanding issues.”

Coun. Steve Peters summed up the discussion in a succinct fashion.
“You need to understand when the public gets concerned, they don’t go to The Inn. They come to the mayor, they come to council.
“And, I can personally say I’ve heard from four business owners, property owners in the area who are extremely concerned about what’s going on.
“The damage that has been done to their property.”
Peters cited June 26 as a day when a stream of personal items was strewn along a stretch of ground from the shelter to Talbot Street.
“It’s us who hear the issues and the public looks to us for a solution.
“We have got to find a way for The Inn to be a better neighbour to its neighbours. There are too many outstanding issues.
“We have got to find a way collectively that we think about the neighbours and the impact of the good work The Inn is doing, but also some of that impact that spinoff is having on the neighbours.”

Related post:

STEGH is facing capacity challenges and hospitals across the province “are having to adjust their services based on the staff that are not available”

MONEY IS ALWAYS THE ANSWER

The aforementioned Brad Beausoleil forwarded this corner a copy of an email he sent to members of council immediately following Monday’s meeting.
He wrote, “I wanted to personally thank you for addressing a few of the issues the neighbouring businesses and building owners are having with The Inn.
“You respectfully gave commendation, asked questions and pressed other city members on the need to do something.”
Beausoleil quite correctly noted the answer is money.
Brad Beausoleil property next to The Inn“When you start an endeavour or project you need money to finish it. The Inn simply requires more money; security, green space, interior space, incentives, bigger location etc.
“The Inn needs more money to finish what was started.
“I was surprised how most discussed The Inn property as owned by The Inn when, in fact, I believe the city owns the property – all the more reason for the city to pony up the funds to support the tenant (The Inn) and its affected neighbours; including a damage cost relief fund.
“The Inn’s presentation exposed what’s at the heart of the issue.
“When speaking about the guest lockers this was what was said; ‘it’s a challenge finding locks that can keep ‘them’ out of each other’s stuff as they’re good at getting into everything.’
“Management of the problem guests or guests described above requires more funding.”
Beausoleil went on to note he approached Barrie and Swarath after the presentation and asked if he could speak to them briefly.
“I started by thanking them for a well-given presentation. Then I asked one question; does The Inn have a fund to repair property damage?
Beausoleil advised that Barrie stated, “we do not. We even had to stop paying for the staff and volunteer vehicle damage as it got to be too much.

“If they are paying for staff and volunteer vehicle damage, locks, their own building damage etc., it makes me feel like there is little to no control.”

We told everyone that driving their vehicle to work is like driving anywhere and they were responsible. The cost just got too much.”
He then observed Barrie “was abruptly and rudely whisked away by (Swarath) who did a lot of the talking at the council meeting and we were told they were off to another meeting.
“What happened to open dialogue, encouraging public support and having local business and building owners appreciate the work being done and of course the challenges?
“Very, very disappointing reaction.
“It’s too bad as I simply wanted to let them know that I would do all I could to assist them in forcing city council’s hand to fund The Inn more appropriately.
“If they are paying for staff and volunteer vehicle damage, locks, their own building damage etc., it makes me feel like there is little to no control.
“Some think control is a bad word but it governs socially acceptable behaviour in our world.
Beausoleil concluded his email with, “Many, many issues, but money is always the answer, bottom line.”

A NEW APPROACH TO A MORE WELCOMING DOWNTOWN

It’s time for a new approach to foot patrols in the downtown core. That was the message from St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge to city council last Monday (July 11).
To accomplish this a new, four-person Community Resource Officer unit is being established to interact with individuals impacted by mental health, substance use disorder and homelessness.
STPS community resource officer“We want to expand our service delivery,” explained Herridge. “And we took a look at some things that are happening in Western Canada where community police officers, community resource officers, special constables and different initiatives that are occurring out there.
“And we thought we can make that work here in St. Thomas to enhance our presence in the downtown.”
The St. Thomas Police Service has hired four individuals with social services and lived experience backgrounds to become Community Resource Officers.

“It’s not about enforcement. It’s about compassion, it’s about empathy.”

They will ultimately operate out of a downtown substation for an enhanced presence in the core area.
Herridge advised council a large percentage of policing today deals with social issues and is not criminal in nature.
These officers will “build those relationships and help vulnerable people navigate the social systems they need to navigate and deal with some of the issues that were being addressed earlier.
“It’s not about enforcement. It’s about compassion, it’s about empathy.”
Herridge continued, “we need to find alternative service delivery options and collaborate with agencies to better support people facing social vulnerabilities.”

“And make our downtown the place it used to be. Make it a comfortable location, a safe location and a secure environment for people who want to be in our downtown.”

Beginning next month, these officers will appear in the downtown core to promote safety and security. They will engage with individuals, interact with merchants, assist vulnerable people and respond to calls for service.
For now, the unit will operate Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on weekends as needed.
Herridge said it boils down to ensuring the downtown core is a safe and inviting location to visit and shop.
“It’s about building those very important relationships. Speak to the business owners. What concerns are they having?
“How can we help them? What do I need to bring back to council? What do I need to bring to the Police Services Board so we can deal with the issues?
“And make our downtown the place it used to be. Make it a comfortable location, a safe location and a secure environment for people who want to be in our downtown.”
In his report to council Herridge noted, “The overall goal is to create efficiencies, free up resources for sworn members to focus on the core functions of policing, broaden our service delivery capabilities and ensure staff are not overwhelmed by non-police related incidents.”
These special constables will earn a starting salary of $50,539 increasing to $74,364 after 10 years, based on the current salary grid.
The aim is to have them work out of a downtown police substation at a yet-to-be-determined location.
Herridge stressed in his report, “Businesses and visitors in the core need a sense of security and a substation will enable us to effectively make our presence felt in the downtown area.”

Related posts:

What was old is new again: Police foot patrols in the core of St. Thomas are about ‘enhancing the value of our downtown’

‘The filth, the garbage, the clean-up, the needles’ . . . welcome to downtown St. Thomas

CANDIDATE SCORECARD

A single name was added to the nomination list over the past week for the Oct. 27 municipal election.
John Allen is seeking to become one of two Thames Valley District School Board trustees.
Allen ran at least a half dozen times in the past for a seat on city council and was the former president of the Elgin Theatre Guild.
In one of his campaigns, he talked about fiscal responsibility and uttered this classic quote, “I also believe that we shouldn’t squeeze the nickel so tight that the beaver passes out.”

FOR THE CALENDAR

July 27 will be celebrated as Jack Graney Day in St. Thomas in honour of his colourful MLB career in Cleveland and then his transformation to radio broadcaster in that same city.
Jack Graney Hometown Baseball CelebrationOn July 11, 1914, the St. Thomas native became the first batter to face Babe Ruth and two years later he was the first major league player to bat wearing a uniform with a number.
In this case Number 1, signifying the lead-off batter.
Prior to the day-long celebration, the St. Thomas native will be posthumously awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
And you can’t mention Graney without recognizing Larry, his bull terrier who travelled with the Cleveland team as their mascot.
The two are remembered in St. Thomas through the roundabout sculpture on Fairview Avenue, near the Doug Tarry Sports Complex.
We’ll have more on the celebration next week.

Visit us on Facebook 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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One thought on “‘We have got to find a way for The Inn to be a better neighbour to its neighbours’ – St. Thomas Councillor Steve Peters

  1. “IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME!”
    With all their misgivings.

    Just a few thoughts and my personal experience with shelters.
    Night shelters are places to stay for people who would be on the streets. You usually must share the sleeping space with others.
    You arrive by a set time in the evening and leave in the morning.
    In the evening, you were started by being checked for body bugs and a shower. Once you were locked in the door, you were not allowed out for a smoke or anything. If you chose to go outside, you did not get back in, period.
    When I stayed there, we didn’t have lockers. We had to put our shoes under the beds pots so we would wake up if someone tried to steal our shoes.
    Any disrupting behaviour whether you were drinking, were high on drugs or had a mental disability, you were ejected immediately back to the streets.
    It was a privilege just to get in and get a bed. In the morning, we were given a large tin can of hot tea and a dish of beans and bacon. They blew a whistle to start your meal and a whistle when you had to stop, finished or not.
    I had to leave the shelter at a set time in the morning.
    If you decided to return the next night, you had to arrive at a set time; it was first come, first served, so to speak—three hundred plus beds.
    Coun. Gary Clarke alluded to: “this shelter needs to be the moved to another location which might serve everyone’s needs, better.”
    I believe The Inn needs structure and strict guidelines for the clients to operate in any location, never mine where it is now.
    London England 1970

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