Preventing the community from ever getting into this homelessness bottleneck again

city_scope_logo-cmykIn November of last year, Danielle Neilson reminded city council that the solution to homelessness is housing and housing with supports.
Neilson is the city’s Homelessness Prevention and Housing Programs Coordinator and at that meeting of council, she presented a thorough overview of the homeless situation in St. Thomas, including an analysis of unsheltered homelessness.
She observed, “. . . this is not only the result of increased demands on our emergency shelter beds, some of my firsthand experiences with people living unsheltered in St. Thomas revealed other factors as well.
“Such as needing lower barrier supports that are matched more appropriately to someone’s mental health or addiction challenges that may result in unpredictable behaviours.
“Having personal belongings or accumulating personal belongings at a rate that exceeds the shelter’s ability to store them.
“Having a complete desire to live unsheltered, even when housing options are available.

“Sometimes there is a lack of trust or a sense of insecurity in accessing emergency shelters. And there are times when shelter restrictions are provided, typically in response to a safety concern supporting someone.
“People may build a makeshift shelter or what we refer to as an encampment on public or private land in order to protect themselves and their belongings from elements or for other reasons.”
Particular reference was made to the cleanup of these encampments on public property.
The city has created a Coordinated Collaborative Response (CCR) protocol to deal with a report of an encampment on public land.
In a nutshell, a street outreach team will attend the encampment to notify those involved of an impending cleanup.
Bylaw officers will attend the location to provide notice to vacate by 10 a.m. the next day.
St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services will then arrange for cleanup.
Neilson advised, “In the event people refuse to leave the area after notice has been given, police may be contacted to respond as a trespassing issue.”

“My understanding at this point in time is that the ruling only affects the Kitchener-Waterloo area, but I have no doubt that because the ruling dove into the Charter of Rights a little bit that other municipalities, especially the ones surrounding, will be challenged to look at their own protocols and ensure that we’re operating in a way that is not an infringement on folks’ human rights.”

It’s not a problem unique to St. Thomas, these encampments have become entrenched in communities large and small across the country.
Such an example is Kitchener.
Officials in Waterloo Region sought to clear an encampment from public property, however, Justice Michael J. Valente ruled last month that evicting people from an encampment when there is no suitable alternative shelter available violates the Charter.
Justice Valente found Kitchener’s encampment bylaws violated people’s constitutional rights to “life, liberty and security of the person.”
An overreach by the court?
We talked with Neilson this week to determine what impact, if any, the ruling may have on the city’s Coordinated Collaborative Response protocol.
“All eyes are on Kitchener-Waterloo at this point in time,” suggested Neilson.
“It’s a really pivotal decision that has been made that will affect other Ontario municipalities.”
She continued, “My understanding at this point in time is that the ruling only affects the Kitchener-Waterloo area, but I have no doubt that because the ruling dove into the Charter of Rights a little bit that other municipalities, especially the ones surrounding, will be challenged to look at their own protocols and ensure that we’re operating in a way that is not an infringement on folks’ human rights.
“So, even at a provincial level in the homelessness world, there are tables forming to look at what this ruling means and how it will impact other municipalities.
“At this very brief moment in time, our protocol is still remaining the same and we are hopeful that this summer will be different than last summer, although it is a bit of a wait and see.”

“My intention for this community is to not need all of the resources that we currently do need to respond to homelessness.”

Neilson is hopeful the 45-unit Indwell project on Queen Street will draw tenants from the homeless community.
“So, likely we will see a big reduction (in the numbers of homeless individuals) locally as soon as they are able to open their doors and operate.”
She is projecting an early summer opening for the housing project.
“The tenancy selection process, because it is very intentional, it will actually start in the coming weeks. So, we’ll be working through our by-name list to identify who has the greatest need and meets the criteria for that housing opportunity and then we’ll put forward names to Indwell.”
Neilson advised approximately 10 names will be submitted at a time.
“Once someone is confirmed for tenancy selection, meaning they will move into one of the units, Indwell will start providing case management support to them right away.
“They will be working with them before they even have a key in their hand.”
Indwell will make sure tenants have what they need in the way of furnishings.
Neilson stressed, “My intention for this community is to not need all of the resources that we currently do need to respond to homelessness.
“It’s going to take us some time to get there and then once we’re there we’re going to have to pivot and focus on prevention and that, in itself, is a lot of work too to prevent us from ever getting into this bottleneck again that we’re in right now.”

Related posts:

‘The solution to homelessness is housing and housing with supports’ – Danielle Neilson

‘If we’re healthy on the inside, we will be healthy on the outside to deliver services to the community’ – incoming St. Thomas Police Chief Marc Roskamp


Subject to city council approving the tender submitted by Cassidy Construction of London, work on Phase 3 of the Talbot Street reconstruction could begin as early as mid-March.
Cassidy’s bid for the project was $6.6 million, the lowest of eight bids.
Of interest is the wide range of bids submitted with the highest coming from Sierra Infrastructure, more than double Cassidy’s figure at almost $13.9 million.
Talbot Street reconstruction Phase 2With tax and a contingency fund factored in, the final tab is almost $7.2 million with the city having budgeted $7.5 million.
Phase 3 covers Talbot Street from Mary Street to Ross Street and will be undertaken in two segments.
This is a continuation of Phase 2 (see photo) which was completed in 2018, with further work suspended due to the pandemic.
The objective is to create “a pedestrian-friendly environment in the downtown core while renewing underground infrastructure,” according to the report to council from Ryan Pflanzer, senior project technologist.
As in the original two phases, the design includes trees, planters, benches and new streetlights.
The road will be closed to vehicular traffic, however pedestrian access to storefronts “will be maintained as much as operationally feasible.”
Advanced notice will be provided when this is not possible.
The substantial completion date is the end of September.
At that time, there will be 93 parking spots available, an increase of about 10 per cent. This includes accessible spots.
Additionally, temporary two-hour parking will be created behind 423 Talbot Street, the former social services building.


Still on the road reconstruction front, work will begin this spring on Parkside Drive and Bell Avenue.
As part of the project, a sidewalk will be installed on the east side of Sunset Drive to link Parkside Collegiate Institute to the existing sidewalk in the vicinity of Wilson Avenue.

Sunset Drive proposed sidewalk

And, traffic signals will be installed at Sunset Drive at the entrance to Parkside.
Both features are long overdue.
Work is to begin at the end of April, with completion at the end of October.


Some soul-searching at Monday’s council meeting where members are being asked to turn thumbs down on a trio of very worthwhile requests.
Destination Church is requesting $3,500 to supplement a lunch program in a half-dozen city schools.
The city’s director of finance recommends council turn down this request because it is to cover day-to-day operations.
June Rose Callwood Public school would like a similar amount to purchase an electronic sign for the school.
Sheridan points out that grants can’t be used to cover operating or capital costs.
And, M.I. Understanding is requesting $3,000 to fund a children’s mental health program for families with children under the age of 12.
Sheridan again reminds council this is for covering day-to-day operations.
He does suggest council approve a $3,400 request from the Rainbow Optimist Club for rental of the bandshell in Pinafore Park and to cover the expense of movie night at Elgin County Pride 2023.
Sheridan notes community events are a priority.
The same reasoning applies to a request from the Elgin Amateur Radio Society and their $2,000 ask to pay for insurance coverage for an emergency communications exercise to likewise be held in Pinafore Park.


A public meeting will take place at 3 p.m. on Feb. 9 via Microsoft Teams to consider a proposal for an affordable
housing development at 21 Kains Street. This is the YWCA’s tiny homes project.

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.


One thought on “Preventing the community from ever getting into this homelessness bottleneck again

  1. As long as they don’t end up
    In group homes like that owned by Vishal Chityal aka Charlie Duke. Referring to the article below.

    There needs to be a multi faceted approach and a long term strategy. Not a bandaid till the next election don’t you think?


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