St. Thomas-Elgin has developed a rapid response system for supporting unhoused veterans . . . a system that can work for other vulnerable populations.

city_scope_logo-cmykSt. Thomas-Elgin has reached a significant milestone in the fight against veterans’ homelessness.
In a brief ceremony prior to Tuesday’s city council meeting (April 11), it was announced St. Thomas-Elgin becomes the second community in Canada to achieve functional zero veteran homelessness.
London was the first city in Canada to be recognized.
The goal was achieved in February of this year and Danielle Neilson, the city’s social housing and homelessness prevention supervisor explains why this is a priority.
“It is part of a federal initiative to end homelessness for all veterans across Canada. And they have put money on the table to be able to do that.
“What happens then is Built for Zero works with Canadian communities to establish a system that is set up to immediately prioritize veterans who are identified in the homeless population and assist them with obtaining housing and then housing stability to ensure that they are anchored into their home.”
St. Thomas-Elgin joined Built for Zero Canada – a national movement of over 40 communities working to end chronic and veteran homelessness – in 2021.

Functional zero veteran homelessness means the number of veterans experiencing homelessness is less than or equal to the number of veterans a community has proven it can house in a month.
The number of veterans experiencing homelessness must be at or below a community’s six-month average housing rate for veterans (or three or fewer actively homeless veterans, whichever is greater) for at least three consecutive months.
HOMELESSjpgNeilson points out, “Built for Zero right now they have two priority populations. One is veterans, and that is largely because of the federal commitment.
“And then the second is chronic homelessness, and that spans across all populations. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman, a youth, or if you are Indigenous.
“If you are chronic, you are a priority.”
After joining Built for Zero Canada, St. Thomas-Elgin has developed a rapid response system for supporting unhoused veterans by adopting some core principles.
Neilson says these principles can be employed to assist other populations at risk of homelessness.
“By demonstrating that this works for veterans, we can demonstrate this can work for other populations as well.
“For example, if we had the federal government commit money to end Indigenous homelessness and then we set up this system that was similar to vets when we prioritize anyone identified, immediately support them with wraparound services to anchor into housing and housing stability.”

“What’s important to know is the numbers (of veterans) is small, but in this type of work small numbers, they are sort of second to the fact it is a heavy lift . . .”

Neilson turned to Shawn’s story. He grew up around the military.
His mother and stepfather met in the armed forces and the minute Shawn became eligible, he wanted to follow in their footsteps and signed up for the army.
However, after four-and-a-half years of service, including deployments to Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina, he struggled to adjust to a routine life in Port Stanley.
He became at imminent risk of experiencing homelessness.
Fortunately, St. Thomas-Elgin has built a system that can respond quickly to veterans who become homeless and ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and non-reoccurring.
Neilson recounts Shawn’s situation.

“And then we educated our community, we created the system where we connected to not just one service area, it’s multiple providers throughout the community that have connected and created this way to prioritize veterans.”

“He was housed, but for a number of different reasons, he was unable to pay his rent and was at imminent risk of experiencing homelessness by way of eviction.
“And by being identified and prioritized and confirmed through the Royal Canadian Legion, he now is receiving the financial assistance he needed to turn that eviction around and be able to stabilize his existing housing.”
Neilson explains the system used to identify vets in St. Thomas and Elgin county.
“What’s important to know is the numbers (of veterans) is small, but in this type of work small numbers, they are sort of second to the fact it is a heavy lift.
“Because it is really about the system we have established in St. Thomas. And before that system existed, we were actually asking people if they were veterans and no one was identifying.
“And then we educated our community, we created the system where we connected to not just one service area, it’s multiple providers throughout the community that have connected and created this way to prioritize veterans.
“And now, when they’re identified we quickly wrap around them with supports and serve them.
“And so, since that system has been established, we’ve actually identified four veterans. Prior to the system, no vets. System in place, and we’ve identified four.
“And when I say ‘we,’ the Royal Canadian Legion has confirmed that they are individuals who have served our country.”
Moving forward, St. Thomas-Elgin aims to reach absolute zero homelessness.
To get there, the community will continue to strengthen partnerships with veteran organizations and prioritize veterans experiencing homelessness for housing opportunities when they meet eligibility criteria.

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While it wasn’t unanimous, city council Tuesday voted to open the chicken coop door enough to allow a backyard pilot project.
Coun. Tara McCaulley tabled the motion directing staff to come up with the criteria for the raising of chickens in residential areas.
She indicated feedback she has received to date was fairly evenly split.
backyard chickens 2Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands pointed out that raising backyard chickens is a growing trend, in light of food insecurity concerns.
She added it is being requested by newcomers to Canada who are used to raising chickens in their home country.
Coun. Steve Peters said he initially had concerns but was reassured by a document included in the report to council.
Prepared by John and Kelly Nephin who live in eastern Ontario, it provided input to the Town of Carleton Place in support of an amendment to its animal control bylaw to allow a small number of hens to be kept in backyards.
It dealt with myths that chicken coops are smelly and ugly; hens are noisy and are a health risk; they are annoying to neighbours; they attract predators; and animal shelters will become crowded with abandoned chickens.

“I just look at this as opening up a huge can of worms for us and staff.”

While in favour of the pilot project, Coun. Steve Wookey wondered who would be responsible for inspecting the backyard chicken coops.
The vote was 7-2 in favour of the pilot project with councillors Gary Clarke and Jeff Kohler opposed.
Calling it a huge enforcement issue, Coun. Clarke argued there are no cost savings when it comes to eggs.
“The whole idea of the food chain is just a red herring. The eggs are going to cost two to four times what they would cost if you were buying them.
“We’ve got the whole problem of viruses right now and predators.”
He added residential lots are smaller in size now limiting the space available to raise hens and he wondered, “What is next, goats?”
Based on feedback he is receiving from ratepayers, Coun. Kohler argued the negatives far outweigh the positives.
“I just look at this as opening up a huge can of worms for us and staff.
“I think there is a reason we have zoning in place to regulate certain things and I think this is a for instance right here as to that.
“We’re living within the city boundaries and there are some people who would like to do and there are other people who live in the city for a different reason.”
Included in the report from the Nephins is a list of numerous Ontario municipalities that allow the raising of hens including Kitchener, Woodstock, Norfolk County and Windsor and it offers considerations for a pilot project to gather information on community impact, including a time frame of three to four years.
City staff will report back to council with criteria to incorporate in a pilot project involving a small number of participants over a yet-to-be-determined time frame.

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There have been several generous donations of late to Hospice of Elgin, but little in the way of news on when shovels enter the ground.
That changed Tuesday when council authorized staff to prepare draft amendments to the city’s Official Plan and zoning bylaw to permit the facility on South Edgeware Road, just west of Mnsg. Morrison Catholic Elementary School.
Hospice of Elgin aerial locationThe site is just over three acres in size with about 15 metres of frontage on South Edgeware.
The building itself would be about 19,500 sq. ft. and be single-storey.
It would contain 10 private suites providing 24/7 palliative care in a home-like environment.
Also included: respite beds for short stays (allowing individuals to return to their homes); family sleep space; a palliative care clinic (supporting individuals to stay in their homes); caregiver support and resources; counselling services; grief and bereavement groups; children’s programs; wellness therapies (i.e. massage, pet therapy, and more); and community space and gardens with a connection to Waterworks Park.
Once open, it is expected Hospice of Elgin will accommodate about 500 individuals each year with over 4,000 families impacted annually.
It will be home to a minimum of 30 staff and a projected 200 volunteers.
Construction was originally expected to begin in March of 2022, with completion scheduled for March of this year. The cost of construction was estimated at $7.6 million.
A public meeting dealing with the Official Plan and zoning amendments will be held at 6 p.m. on May 15 in the council chamber at city hall.

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Another undertaking that has somewhat flown under the radar over the past couple of years is the Watertower Mountain Bike Trail Network at the north end of Waterworks Park.
Back in December 2020, the previous city council was receptive to a stewardship agreement between the city and the Railway City Cycling Club for the trail development.
The project was first presented to council in September 2017
Water Tower mountain bike park update trail map April 11-23Development and maintenance of the trails would be undertaken by volunteers.
Examples of similar areas on municipal land include Turkey Point Mountain Bike Club, the Pines in Woodstock and the Hydro Cut in Waterloo.
The development was before city council this past Tuesday (April 11) in the form of an update report.
According to the report from Jeff Bray, the city’s director of parks, recreation and property management, since 2020 staff have been working with the local volunteer group – the Water Tower Mountain Bike
Trail Network (WTMBTN) – to construct a mountain bike trail system. To date, the WTMBTN volunteers
have contributed over 900 hours towards the construction of nine trails on approximately 28 acres of land.
The trailhead and parking are accessible from Water Tower Road. To date, these completed trails represent the second of 4 phases.
The next phase is scheduled for completion this year, with the entire network completed in 2024.
Bray advises the city s is designated a bronze level Bike Friendly Community by The Share the Road Coalition, a cycling advocacy organization dedicated to building a bicycle-friendly Ontario.
Through the efforts of the WTMBTN and staff, the goal is to attain a gold-level designation. To achieve this level, a community must demonstrate specified achievements in each of the following four categories:

• Engineering
• Education
• Encouragement
• Evaluation and Planning

Bray concludes, “Having a well-designed and promoted mountain bike trail network will assist in accomplishing this goal.”

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In our item last week dealing with the city hiring consultants – at a cost of almost eight million dollars – Nathan Bokma, manager of development and compliance noted the city did not tender the project, instead “it is necessary to single source procure these services.”
He pointed out, “Engineering work across Ontario is dictated by a professional fee schedule which is very similar between firms.”

Reader Dave Mathers emailed us with this critical observation.

“Didn’t that used to be called price fixing?”

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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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