‘We’re aware of sensitivities, but where is the best spot for a shelter?’ – Brian Elliot, executive director of The Inn, St. Thomas

city_scope_logo-cmykThe Inn, the city’s emergency shelter which opened back in January, has a new executive director.
Brian Elliot, who came on board last month, was employed in the same role previously with Habitat for Humanity Heartland Ontario.
He replaces interim executive director Pastor Cherisse Swarath.
In an interview with Elliot this week, we asked what is it about the emergency shelter and St. Thomas that attracted him to the position.
“I’ve been involved with non-profits, one way or another, my entire life and so I really saw The Inn as a place in St. Thomas that had been very progressive in trying to find longer-term solutions to the homeless situation.”
To minimize the number of homeless individuals in St. Thomas and Elgin, Elliot stresses the need to work with community partners.
“Habitat was all about families and, in some cases, individuals and helping them succeed. And The Inn is no different. We’re working with individuals and we’re finding the right supports and the right solutions to allow them to be more successful in their lives.
“I think there are a lot of similarities.”

In its first year of operation, points out Elliot, The Inn has achieved success through working with its community partners.
“You know, The Inn has done an amazing job working not only with the city but also with community partners like Thames Valley Addiction Services.
The Inn Brian Elliot“We have doctors who come in, we have mental health and addiction support services, all who come and use space in our building to work with the homeless here.
“Helping them, whether it’s with medication, supports or finding ways to get them housing to get them out of the shelter.
“The support services that come to The Inn are critical to making that happen and helping these individuals.”
Elliot touches on some of those success stories, in conjunction with Indwell, a Christian-based charity that has built supportive housing for more than 700 individuals in London, Woodstock, Simcoe and Hamilton.
Indwell operates the Railway City Lofts on Talbot Street and will own and operate 45 apartment units at 16 Queen Street now under construction.
“We’ve seen some of our clients move into Indwell projects. Some of our clients moved right into rental housing right here in St. Thomas or other geared-to-income supportive housing or group homes.
“So, Indwell is certainly a big player in St. Thomas.”
Elliot was careful to point out some homeless individuals are employed. They are in their current situation because of family issues, the loss of a spouse or partner or breakups.
With the onset of colder temperatures, Elliot advises The Inn is consistently operating at its 40-bed capacity with plans to make more space available.
“We’ve certainly been full every night since I’ve been here and my understanding is even into October. We will certainly see the facility at capacity.

“This is where we’re at. This is our location and so we’re doing everything in our power to work with the community around us to make it as community focussed as we can.”

“We will also open up our dining space for an additional 10 individuals to be able to stay warm.
“So, we’re really cognizant of trying to do what we can to help in a population.”
With the emergency shelter having its share of detractors from the moment it opened, and with it being an issue in the fall municipal election, an obvious question for Elliot has to be, is the city’s emergency shelter in the right location, recognizing he was not part of the decision-making process.
“This is where we’re at. This is our location and so we’re doing everything in our power to work with the community around us to make it as community focussed as we can.

“We continue to be able to transition individuals into other housing and we want to continue on with that momentum. And continue to work with our community partners on solutions.”

“We’re aware of sensitivities, but where is the best spot for a shelter?
“At this point, this is where we are. We’re doing everything we can to try and find homeless individuals other places that are a longer-term solution.”
We asked Elliot what he and the shelter would like to accomplish in the coming year.
“We continue to be able to transition individuals into other housing and we want to continue on with that momentum.
“And continue to work with our community partners on solutions. I think the city has really found a way to come together to try and tackle this issue.”
At the July 11 council meeting, a discussion on the status and future of the city’s emergency shelter consumed more than an hour.
Present for the meeting were Margaret Barrie, chair of the board of directors and Pastor Cherisse Swarath.
You can read about that discussion here.


In taking an advance look last week at the 2023 proposed city budget, this corner suggested some trimming would need to be undertaken to hold the line to this year’s 2.35 per cent increase in the property tax levy.
Well, thanks to the persistence of Coun. Gary Clarke, with support from councillors Jeff Kohler and Steve Peters, council was able to do just that.

“What we’ve done is cut the capital projects to make sure this (budget increase) gets to be acceptable.”

The $24.3 million capital portion of the budget was approved as is, so any savings would have to come from the operating budget.
As Coun. Steve Wookey correctly noted the operating budget is coming in considerably higher than the overall 2.87 per cent increase in the proposed budget.
“What we’ve done is cut the capital projects to make sure this (budget increase) gets to be acceptable.”
Wookey continued, “I appreciate why we’re doing that . . . but we are sacrificing capital projects to do that.”
In the end, council voted in favour of Clarke’s motion to hold an increase to the property tax levy at 2.35 per cent.
That would result in a $71 increase in the property tax next year based on the average assessed value of a home in the city.
To hold the line on the 2023 budget will require an approximately $300,000 adjustment to the operating portion with no consensus during deliberation on how to achieve that.
So a report will be presented to council shortly as to whether that will be achieved through dipping into reserves or asking department heads to pare back on their financial request.
We’ll dive deeper into the budget in the coming weeks with council expected to formally adopt it next month.

As city staff began work on the 2023 budget, residents were encouraged to answer a few basic questions about their expectations for the coming year.
During October, approximately 600 people participated in the survey and at Monday’s (Dec. 5) council meeting Dan Sheridan, the city’s director of finance, presented the results.
Twenty-three per cent of respondents registered concerns about homelessness and the state of the downtown which ties in nicely with the above item on The Inn’s new executive director Brian Elliot.
Twenty-one per cent raised concerns about the lack of health services and the need for more family doctors.
High rents and the lengthy waiting list for affordable housing were red-lighted by 13 per cent of those who participated in the survey.
Twelve per cent would like to see increased service levels for police and ambulance.
Eleven per cent said there is a need for increased recreation funding for facilities and trails.
Ten per cent urged the city to spend more on infrastructure.
Five per cent stressed the need for increased transit service within the city and to other communities.
Two per cent expressed concerns about the city’s direction in planning and development.
Only two per cent requested a greater focus on the environment.
And at the bottom of the list, one per cent sought more spending on arts and culture.
Granted, the survey was basic and unscientific, however, some surprising priorities were registered by ratepayers.
Will council and staff consider these in the coming year?
After all, you can’t solicit input and then totally ignore it although – come to think of it – isn’t that what politicians, boards and committees are always accused of?


A fascinating report from city clerk Maria Konefal on council’s agenda for Monday (Dec. 12).
When it came to voting in the fall municipal election, the overwhelming majority of residents who cast a ballot were over the age of 45.
Of the 9,527 voters, less than 20 per cent – 1,810 individuals – were between the ages of 18 and 44. The greatest percentage of voters were 65 years of age or older. Konefal goes on to note the turnout by age percentages is almost identical to that in the 2018 municipal election.
And, picking up your phone to register your vote was a non-starter with residents.
Only 670 individuals called in to vote.
However, as Konefal points out, by allowing individuals to vote using the internet or telephone from anywhere in the world, 47 voters were able to cast their ballots from other countries, including the United States, Ireland, Poland, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Some other snippets of information.
Of those 9,527 electors, .0058% declined their ballot, 1.4% abstained from the mayoral race, 1.1% abstained from
the councillor race and 17.9% abstained from the Thames Valley District School Board race.
Approximately 73% of electors voted before Oct. 24.
Konefal points out voters were able to cast their ballots quickly during the voting period.
The average voting session lengths are as follows: 2.6 minutes for internet voting, 1.6 minutes for kiosk voting and 4.3 minutes for telephone voting.
And nine per cent of voters cast their ballot at a mobile voter help centre, almost half of them – 408 individuals – waited until election day, Oct. 24.
The bottom line, however, voter turnout was a dismal 30.6 per cent. That’s down from 36.09 per cent in 2018.
At this point, people have given up on the system.
It’s not the system used for voting, i.e. paper ballots versus electronic voting.
It’s the political system itself at all levels of government.
Kind of like that old saying that an election is where you replace one band of crooks with a different band of crooks.

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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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