As he campaigns for a seat on city council, Devon Church confidently proclaims when elected, not if.
Specifically, “When elected, I will be accountable, dedicated and propel council towards innovation and positive change.”
Church is a registered nurse at Southwestern Public Health who bemoans the lack of lived experience on the present council.
Church feels members of council “were mostly folks from a higher income level trying to figure out what to do with folks from lower incomes.”
Every candidate points to the need for solutions to issues plaguing the downtown core.
Church offers alternatives.
“I believe we need a downtown drop-in space that is accessible to all, that includes food and beds.”
But it is not the existing emergency shelter known as The Inn.
“I believe St. Thomas would benefit from a centralized hub where people can access transitional housing that incorporates social services along with safe consumption and treatment.”
He is urging the city to put pressure on the province to promote better healthcare.
“I’ve done palliative care. I’ve worked at Valleyview for the last eight years and I’ve been doing seniors’ work.
“And then working with vulnerable populations through public health. And, I just realized what a huge need there was.
“I knew it was bad but didn’t know just how bad it was.”
He adds there is a need to provide indoor walking spaces, affordable daycare, senior services, outdoor skating rinks and green spaces.
“I also work with a lot of youth and their mental health . . . I’ve never seen it so low.”
Church continues, as a result of the pandemic, many residents feel isolated and crave human connection, particularly in the case of seniors.
“I’m hearing a lot about a lack of spaces for seniors and adults that aren’t spaced around coffee shops.
“The lack of indoor walking spaces. What can seniors do to get out?”
Still with healthcare, Church says he would work with community groups to attract more physicians to establish offices in the city.
As almost every candidate has alluded to, Church points to the need for more affordable rental housing.
“I want to make sure they have a voice or they have a voice and I can amplify it.”
“I will advocate for affordable housing by innovating our housing solution to include tiny houses, garden suites and additions to existing houses.”
An area not touched upon by other council hopefuls is the city’s website.
It needs an overhaul, advises Church, “so that we can easily apply for permits, access services, make complaints and get real-time solutions for the issues facing St. Thomas residents.”
His campaign message to city ratepayers is quite simple.
“I want to make sure they have a voice or they have a voice and I can amplify it.
“I’m young and I really just want to start a conversation to try and get help.”
And he reinforces what should be a universal pledge from all individuals seeking a seat in the council chamber, “Everyone deserves the right to feel welcomed, accepted and supported in our city.”
INSIDE IT WAS HORRIFYING
Earlier this year we received a phone call from Diana Zlomislic, an investigative reporter with the Toronto Star.
We had a lengthy conversation about Walnut Manor, the domiciliary hostel owned by Vishal Chityal of SupportiveLiving.ca. It’s one of a chain of homes he operates across the province.
Zlomislic had been alerted to items this corner had published about Walnut Manor going back to 2014.
She had arranged an interview with Chityal and I encouraged her to soldier on with her research and shed a light on the disgusting state of affairs at these and other homes.
This week, the results of her investigative reporting appeared in the online version of the Toronto Star.
The title says it all, “It was supposed to be a safe, affordable home for Ontarians with nowhere to go. But inside, it was horrifying.”
Collectively, this corner characterized all references to Walnut Manor in St. Thomas as the warehousing of society’s most vulnerable individuals and sustaining them with meals that were appalling and not appealing.
“that revealed ongoing violations at the site, including extensive mould contamination, rodent and bed bug infestations, sanitation issues, and a lack of hot running water”
A word of caution, Zlomislic’s article is not for the faint of heart or those with dodgy digestive systems.
She references attempts by a couple of MPPs who have attempted to pass a private members’ bill to regulate these homes.
The most recent was in December of 2019, when Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor.
The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
You can read more about this bill here.
On July 7 of last year, Southwestern Public Health finally shuttered Walnut Manor via a Section 13 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to close the facility due to the existence of significant health hazards.
“The pair of fire officials were the first to venture into the basement, where they discovered piles of garbage, rodent activity and the ceiling mould. Bed bugs bit them all over.”
The closure came on the heels of an exterior fire back in May of 2021 in which, luckily, no one was injured.
Southwestern Public Health conducted a series of inspections on June 3, 11, 22, 29, and July 6 “that revealed ongoing violations at the site, including extensive mould contamination, rodent and bed bug infestations, sanitation issues, and a lack of hot running water,” according to a health unit release.
Zlomislic’s report documents an inspection undertaken by Kim Destun, chief fire prevention officer with the St. Thomas Fire Department and a Fire Marshal’s representative.
Zlomislic writes, “The pair of fire officials were the first to venture into the basement, where they discovered piles of garbage, rodent activity and the ceiling mould. Bed bugs bit them all over.”
Back in December 2019, we wrote that Vishal Chityal and his team at SupportiveLiving.ca was named “The Most Outstanding Supportive Services Management Team in Canada” by Canadian Over 50s Housing Magazine, whose head office is in Los Angeles.
Eight years of documentation in this corner and Zlomislic’s excellent reporting in the Toronto Star suggest that the award likely should have gone to a more deserving management team.
WE LIKE THINGS JUST THE WAY THEY ARE, THANK YOU
With the Oct. 29 deadline fast approaching for submissions to the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for the Province of Ontario, council is being asked Monday (Oct. 17) to approve the city’s response to the proposed new London South-St. Thomas and Elgin-Middlesex-Thames electoral districts.
In summary, the city argues “St. Thomas be fully contained and represented within one federal electoral district within Elgin county including local municipalities.”
Mayor Joe Preston will make an in-person presentation at the local hearing to be held on Oct. 28 in London.
Taylor Mooney, the city’s strategic initiatives manager, has drafted the submission to be delivered to the commission.
Mooney notes, “The inclusion of the City of St. Thomas in the London South–St. Thomas electoral district takes a small urban city and adds it into a new more urban-based riding, creating a reality of potential competition with the City of London for federal discussions and supports.”
“The community identity including rural voice of the St. Thomas/Elgin county community would be significantly diluted across two ridings that would have the City of London and larger urban concerns.”
Mooney continues, “The City of St. Thomas and municipal community organizations, including those that provide supports and services across the county would face greater time and complexity when seeking to engage federal government with the increased likelihood of having to organize two meetings rather than one. Also, there could be the potential for risk of contradictory positions by area Members of Parliament where they represent competing political parties.”
And, “The community identity including rural voice of the St. Thomas/Elgin county community would be
significantly diluted across two ridings that would have the City of London and larger urban concerns.”
Mooney points out that the two new ridings “do not respect the historical pattern of Elgin electoral districts.”
The new Elgin-Middlesex-Thames riding would encompass an area of 6,262 square kilometres, almost double the existing size of Elgin-Middlesex-London riding at 3,557 square kilometres, a riding that would be difficult to be considered a district of “manageable geographic size.”
Mooney concludes, “The justification for the proposed change provided by the commission does not effectively explain the significant changes recommended, nor regrettably, result in a proposed boundary adjustment that creates a reasonable or appropriate revised electoral district for St. Thomas.
“Moving forward, given the issues identified here, any new boundary adjustment must take into consideration long-standing systems of service and collaborative activities that have built and sustained the St. Thomas/ Elgin community.”
A Bell Avenue resident is threatening a class-action lawsuit against the city unless the volume is turned down on concerts in Pinafore Park.
In a letter to mayor and council Dawn Sutton, a long-time city resident, has concerns about what she calls “major changes” to the way events are presented in the park.
While there may be validity to the concerns about the music level at live events endured by Sutton and her neighbours, her supporting material, at times, is a bit of a stretch.
Sutton writes, “We are currently in the seventh wave of COVID (is this true and who is keeping track?) and there should be no large gatherings. They are not turning away people who do not wear masks and, therefore putting people’s health at risk, maybe even people’s lives.”
“I am a senior with heart failure and the loud music gives me a headache and raises my blood pressure every time I have to listen to it. Even two days in a row seriously puts me at risk for having a heart attack. For the sake of entertainment?”
It should be self-evident the events are outdoors and there has been no significant spike in case numbers after events in the park according to the Southwestern Public Health COVID-19 dashboard.
Sutton goes on to note, “The city is allowing music festivals as long as four days straight featuring rock bands and extensive use of amplifiers.”
She argues “Pinafore Park is right next to a hospital.”
Yes, sound travels but to say the grandstand area in Pinafore Park is adjacent to the hospital is a bit of a stretch.
She notes, “the police and the City of St. Thomas are approving the violation of the city noise bylaw as music at that volume is definitely disturbing the peace and is not supposed to be allowed any time of day or night.”
The city noise bylaw does permit live music in Pinafore Park with an evening curfew.
According to Sutton, “loud music is also a form of torture which is recognized internationally.”
Didn’t realize Nickelback was performing at the recent Summer Harvest Festival.
In defence of her request to council, Sutton explains “I am a senior with heart failure and the loud music gives me a headache and raises my blood pressure every time I have to listen to it. Even two days in a row seriously puts me at risk for having a heart attack.
“For the sake of entertainment?”
She points out “previous attempts to address our concerns have been dismissed by the city and organizers of these music festivals.”
So if the city continues to ignore the pleas of Sutton and some of her neighbours, “we will consider pursuing a public nuisance class action lawsuit against the City of St. Thomas.”
It is a bit of a thorny issue so will city council on Monday go further than just filing Sutton’s letter as information received?
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.