Unplugging the homelessness bottleneck in St. Thomas-Elgin

city_scope_logo-cmyk“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.”
That was the salient takeaway from the lengthy discussion at the July 11 council meeting revolving around The Inn, the city’s emergency shelter.
The observation, which pivoted the dialogue back on track to long-term solutions instead of short-term fixes, was put forward by Danielle Neilson, the city’s homelessness and housing supervisor.
She followed that with, “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.”
Proof of that was evident in a media release issued July 8 by Built For Zero, a program of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

St. Thomas-Elgin was being lauded as a leading community in Canada when it comes to demonstrably reducing homelessness.
In August of last year, 75 individuals were identified as experiencing chronic homelessness.
This reliable, real-time data was compiled by establishing an accurate by-name list of these individuals and setting that as a baseline.
The first milestone then is to reduce chronic homelessness 10 per cent below that baseline and maintain the reduction for three consecutive months.
Indwell Phase 2 artist renditionBy April of this year that number had dropped by at least 10 per cent and the reduction was sustained through May and June. In fact, in June only 56 of those individuals were reported as experiencing chronic homelessness.
Marie Morrison, Built For Zero Canada director, says the accomplishments of St. Thomas-Elgin prove to other communities that reductions in homelessness are possible.
She added, St. Thomas-Elgin is the eighth community in Canada to reach this milestone and is one of four currently sustaining this progress.
Speaking with Neilson the day after the council meeting she pointed out this is just the start.

“And, we have the response set up so that when someone does experience homelessness – because that is inevitable – we’re ready for that experience to be brief and non-reoccurring.”

“As we work toward the new build (now under construction at 16-18 Queen Street) behind our social services office here (at 230 Talbot Street), we have practices in place so that the housing provider (Indwell) ensures they are pulling directly from our list of people experiencing active homelessness when they are matching those units to tenants.”
There will be 45 units available in this project with Neilson indicating occupancy will begin next spring.
She added, “If all figures and projections continue the way we are going, we anticipate reducing chronic homelessness by probably 50 per cent by the spring.
“And then once all of that work happens, we are in a position to then look at do we need 40 beds in our emergency shelter?”
She indicated the ultimate goal under Built for Zero is to have three or fewer people at any given time actively experiencing homelessness in the community.

“There is reason to be very hopeful for a much-reduced need for resources like an emergency shelter.”

“And, we have the response set up so that when someone does experience homelessness – because that is inevitable – we’re ready for that experience to be brief and non-reoccurring.”
Keeping in mind these individuals have to be agreeable to being housed in one of the Indwell units.
“There are no laws or requirements for them to have to take that offer but the intention is absolutely for anyone in our community experiencing homelessness, they are identified on that by-name list.
“That by-name list gets filtered and we, as a function of St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services, give Indwell a list of priority individuals and they select from that list to match people into the units.
“So, they will come right off our streets and right out of our emergency shelter.
“There is reason to be very hopeful for a much-reduced need for resources like an emergency shelter.”
It is all about unplugging the homelessness bottleneck.

Related post:

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


The preamble to the city’s ice allocation policy for its two arenas is quite clear and concise.
“The City of St. Thomas owns and operates three ice surfaces for St. Thomas community use. For many years, the City of St. Thomas has allocated ice time in such a way as to promote and encourage participation in ice sports to the overall benefit of the community. This ice allocation policy provides city staff with guidelines and procedures to ensure that this facilitative role is maintained and that ice time is allocated according to fair and consistent practices.”
Under Section 9 of the policy dealing with seasonal adult ice permits, it is noted, “Priority is given to users who have held a seasonal permit the previous year. The ownership of the permit may be transferred, providing the majority of the participants are the same as the previous year.”
timken-centrejpgGiven these sections of the policy, David Smith is puzzled – and frustrated – as to why players in the Masters 45 hockey league are being told after 26 years they have lost their Thursday night ice time.
Smith is the president and convenor of the men’s recreational league which includes 128 players on eight teams.
Their ice time on Thursdays is not for a bunch of pick-up games, they have a schedule and they employ two carded refs and a timekeeper.
Two weeks ago, Smith received an email from the city advising the league could no longer be guaranteed this block of ice time due to requests that exceeded the availability of time on the three ice pads in St. Thomas.
Seems a boundary dispute between St. Thomas Minor Hockey and Port Stanley Minor Hockey resulted in approximately 150 Port Stanley players being able to join the St. Thomas program and thus the need for extra ice time, at the expense of Masters 45.

“Many of the municipal ice facilities in our area are prioritizing minor sports over adult programming.”

The two bodies were at an impasse and STMHA cancelled the existing boundary agreement.
Smith observed, “The 45+ league are residents and taxpayers in St. Thomas and is being destroyed by the importation of minor hockey players who bring nothing to St. Thomas except their player fees.”
So, Smith wrote to Dean Johnson who is Regional Director Region 1 – Western District Area B of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association.
Johnson advised, “There have been a significant number of player transfers into St. Thomas from the GTA. I think these are the real factors at play.
“I have several associations in my district struggling with the municipal governments to prioritize arena facilities when the demand is there and has been over for a decade.”
Johnson went on to note, “Many of the municipal ice facilities in our area are prioritizing minor sports over adult programming.”
Is that the case in St. Thomas?

“This is a work in flux right now and hopefully we can come to some agreement.”

Smith points out his league was never asked to participate in discussions that began in 2021 on ice allocation.
He adds although the league was notified on July 8 about the loss of ice, it was known almost two months ago this would be the outcome.
“Leaving us no time to make any alternative arrangements,” advises Smith.
He forwarded some background info for perspective.
“Now our budget is about $42,000/year for 128 players, ice time, referees, timekeepers, pucks, sweater washing and end-of-season pizza night.
“Over our 25 operational years, I estimate our GDP at approximately $850,000.”
Again we are not dealing with a bunch of the boys lacing up skates for some pick-up hockey.
Well, the matter was raised by Coun. Gary Clarke at the July 11 city council meeting.
Clarke explained to members, “Minor hockey has increased the catchment area and they now can pick up players from Port Stanley.
“The (city) staff member said there could be 100 to 150 kids coming from Port Stanley to St. Thomas, therefore minor hockey thinks they need more ice time.
He added the adult players are taxpayers “and don’t understand why they are being displaced with minor hockey kids from Port Stanley.”
And they were told if they need ice to call Port Stanley “because they are probably going to have a lot of ice time.
“Our policy seems to have a bit of a problem where minor hockey can say at this point in the process . . . they need all this ice time and then they relinquish it and you’re (the city) stuck with ice time because other people have had to go out and make other arrangements.”
Clarke asked for a review of the existing policy and whether STMHA is making a fair request.
Jeff Bray, the city’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management responded, “We’ve gone through the ice allocation process . . . and unfortunately the 45+ team had one single block (of ice time).
“We can accommodate them on other nights by breaking it (the time block) up.
“This is a work in flux right now and hopefully we can come to some agreement.”
We’ve skated over this frozen pond in the past and, no doubt, there will be more to follow as both parties and the city attempt to reach a resolution.


That would be Glad as in John Gladstone Graney, more commonly known as Jack Graney.
Next Wednesday (July 27) has been declared Jack Graney Day in St. Thomas to commemorate his 14-year Major League Baseball career and 21 years as the play-by-play broadcaster for the Cleveland Indians.
Born in St. Thomas in 1886, Graney began his career as a pitcher then transitioned to the outfield, spending his entire major league career with the Cleveland franchise, which included playing as part of Cleveland’s first World Series Championship team in 1920, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Jack Graney Hometown Baseball CelebrationGraney entered the record books as the first hitter Red Sox Pitcher Babe Ruth faced in the major leagues on July 11, 1914.
Almost two years later, he became the first major leaguer to bat wearing a number on his uniform and in 1908 was a member of the first All-Star team to tour Asia.
At 11:30 a.m. next Wednesday, there will be a formal dedication of the Hometown Heroes baseball sculpture located at the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Bill Martyn Parkway.
Then at 2 p.m., there are book signings of both 3 and 2 Jack by William Rayner and Jack and Larry by Barbara Gregorich.
Larry, by the way, was Graney’s four-legged companion for several years and more on the bull terrier in a moment.
The evening portion of the festivities begins at 6:30 at Emslie Field and city councillor Steve Peters recounts the connection between Graney and Bob Emslie, both of whom lived on the same city street.
“Jack Graney was discovered by Bob Emslie, a local National League umpire who also lived on Elgin Street, further to the south of the Graney household,” noted Peters.
“There’s the Graney story itself and the Emslie story but there’s the connection between the two as well.
“Bob Emslie was a National League umpire who actually started as a player in the American League and went on to become an umpire for over 26 years.

“One of the things they say made Graney so successful because you have to understand in the early days, he wasn’t actually at a ball diamond calling the game.”

“But he always kept his home in St. Thomas. He was one of the longest-serving National League umpires.
“His nickname was Blind Bob, but he was anything but blind. He was a champion rifle shooter and an avid curler.
“And, he always wintered in St. Thomas.”
In the 1950s the ball diamond in Pinafore Park was named Emslie Field.
“Baseball has been played on that very spot since 1899.”
Back to Graney, after he hung up his glove he took to the broadcast booth handling Cleveland games until he signed off in 1953.
“One of the things they say made Graney so successful because you have to understand in the early days, he wasn’t actually at a ball diamond calling the game.
“He was doing it over the phone (reading a transcription) but because he was a player, he could give you that feel of what it was like on the field and he knew the baseball stadiums, too.”
Graney is this year’s recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award presented annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame to a broadcaster for major contributions to baseball.
And, what about Larry?
Author Barbara Gregorich, in her book Jack and Larry, wrote a heart-warming account of the special relationship between Graney, the team’s dog Larry (Cleveland’s first mascot), and Cleveland fans.
“Whenever Jack realized Larry was becoming tired from his pre-game antics, long road trips and train rides, Jack sent the well-recognized bull terrier to St. Thomas for a much-needed rest.
“Jack would take Larry to the Cleveland dock and put him on the midnight steamer northbound across Lake Erie. Arriving in Port Stanley the next morning, Larry would trot down the ramp, run over to the waiting interurban car bound for St. Thomas, board it, and jump off at his stop. There he would scamper down Elgin Street to Jack’s parent’s house, announcing his arrival with a loud bark and scratching at the door.”
So how did Larry get hooked up with the Cleveland organization?
Well, Peters has the lowdown.
“Larry the dog was one in a bet over a boxing match. Someone in management of the Cleveland baseball team won Larry in 1912.
“In 1912, Graney gets injured and is stuck on the bench and Graney assumes the responsibility of looking after the mascot who had been named Larry.
“In 1914, the Cleveland ball team met at the White House and met President Woodrow Wilson and Larry accompanied Graney and the team.
“The dog actually got away and went out onto the White House lawn and chased a squirrel.”
And now you know the rest of the story.
All the more reason to grab a seat Wednesday at Emslie Field for an evening of baseball and nostalgia, including a U14 baseball game between the St. Thomas Cardinals and the Sarnia Brigade with a drone show to follow.


What’s the significance of ‘bluebird’?
Starting to hear the word pop up here and there in a discreet fashion.
Almost as if it was a codeword.
Like a spy movie, or police sting operation or perhaps the province investing in some sort of big, super secret project somewhere with the code name Project Bluebird.
Could it have something to do with the 800-plus acre land purchase recently announced?
The only bluebird that comes to mind is Blue Bird the school bus manufacturer.
Seems they have now built 500 or so electric school buses.
Could they be the mega-project the city has talked about landing?
Hard to imagine the province investing countless millions of dollars into the city to build school buses.
So, bluebird, just what could that be?


In response to last week’s item on the city’s emergency shelter, Carrie Hedderson Smith put forth this plea.

“I am not looking for a Facebook attack but PLEASE stop putting all the things that are a problem in the west end of town.
“Keep in mind we are long-term taxpayers too, those who live in Shaw Valley, Lake Margaret and the east end do not have to deal with these issues and the fallout from this.
“We are good, hard-working people who take pride in our homes and neighbourhood. We realize others suffer and need housing supports, etc., but why does it all have to be in the west end? “I’ve read the articles and isn’t the downtown core the whole downtown core? A lot of these problems started long ago with past inaction by the city CAO who refused to listen to suggestions about minimum property standards bylaws, etc., for core businesses and instead let empty storefronts fill with garbage and the back of heritage buildings deteriorate to the point of bricks crumbling and giving way and being open to the elements.
“Better planning needs to be done and Steve Peters is right, some councillors turning a blind eye is not the answer. Some councillors walk through the courthouse neighbourhood regularly and have made comments in the past about older houses would be best torn down.
“It is this kind of short-sightedness that creates these types of problems.
“I have said for years that the gateway to the town is not a blinder to what the core looks like and I’ve just had a Facebook attack every time.
“Other town’s cores look lovely like Tillsonburg. I’ve suggested to inquire on what they do that is working and maybe consider if that would work here.
“Every time we are too proud and continue on the same path. St.Thomas has many wonderful and kind people who would like better, people who volunteer and care.
“I pray it will get better in the future.”

And, Jim Russell passed along some of his thoughts and a few personal experiences with shelters in London, England in the 1970s.

“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 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 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 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 mind where it is now.”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope 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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