He’s lived in the downtown core for 29 years and Steve Peters recounts over that time, “either sitting in my front window and watching the traffic on the street or sitting on my deck and hearing the traffic, things have changed.”
Boy, have they ever and Coun. Peters begins to open up on the challenges people face in finding a place to live in the heart of St. Thomas.
How much of that is due to what is referred to as the gentrification of downtown neighbourhoods?
“In the core area, the number of retrofits I have seen and continue to see,” suggested Peters.
“I am aware of a family that has had to move out of their place because the building has been sold and the new owner is coming in and is going to spend a lot of money to upgrade the place.
“I can look at a house beside me that is a fourplex and changed hands about four years ago and the new owner I bet spent over $200,000 or more and where this fourplex was probably renting for $600 is now renting for $1,200 plus utilities.”
Last week’s item on the state of the downtown core generated a far-reaching cross-section of opinions, possible solutions and a smidgen of finger-pointing.
Here is a sampling of what has landed from various City Scope locales as of mid-week.
Jackie Harris, a patient care manager offered a valid alternative to security guards taking care of business.
“Why aren’t we thinking of peer outreach workers instead of security? There is an excellent model in London called London Cares as well as other models across Canada and the US. “We are totally missing the boat on this St. Thomas…”
That prompted this response from St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston.
“Thank you. St Thomas has our CMHA street team and the Mental Health Police support team both active on the street. “We, with the help of Jeff Yurek, have reached out to the Ministry for more team members and a Detox, Rehab, Mental Crisis beds.”
Love where you shop.
That’s the branding employed by the St. Thomas Downtown Development Board as they promote shopping in the city’s historic core area along Talbot Street.
Although in this exceptional year, the downtown merchants have faced a double whammy: shuttering for several months due to the coronavirus and having to contend with the homeless who wander Talbot Street and frequent the back lanes.
Although they are now open again, for the most part, many shoppers are leery to venture downtown citing the less than inviting atmosphere.
It was not your typical venue in which Mayor Joe Preston was able to meet with constituents.
Thursday morning’s face-to-face with frustrated downtown merchants played out along a back alley that every morning is littered with discarded drug paraphernalia and other detritus of the downtrodden.
It’s a habitat for the homeless and those with mental health issues who utilize back doorsteps and alcoves as personal relief stations.
Hidden from passersby on Talbot Street, it’s where staff often find the less fortunate huddled, unconscious or attempting to harm themselves.
It was against this desperate backdrop that a dozen or so core merchants – already pummelled financially by the pandemic – pleaded with Preston to return this stretch of the downtown corridor to a more inviting destination for shoppers.
Among the positive steps taken this year in St. Thomas to help mitigate poverty’s impact on Ontario Works recipients was the introduction in February of the Bus Pass Pilot Project. Under this scheme, recipients seeking employment would have access to a monthly bus pass, recognizing “Access to reliable and affordable transportation is integral to a person’s ability to gain and maintain employment, to access health care, recreational, educational and social activities among other things.” That is according to a report from Heather Sheridan, supervisor of employment and income supports, to be discussed at Monday’s council meeting. She is asking council to continue the bus pass program and extend it further to include sole support parents and their children. Continue reading →
Is the goal of this provincial government to encourage migration from rural areas to urban centres, as suggested by one Elgin county mayor? That was one of the issues raised at a roundtable on rural poverty held Feb. 24 at the CASO station in St. Thomas and hosted by Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek.
Attended by two dozen municipal and social/community agency representatives, the forum was designed to get a sense of what rural poverty is and its impact on St. Thomas and Elgin county municipalities, explained Yurek afterward.
“What’s available and what barriers are out there for people. Too often policies are developed in Toronto with an urban lens and we need to look at it with a rural point of view. It’s different living in rural Ontario and we need to have a balance in policies to ensure we can help get people out of poverty in rural Ontario.”
Faced with the inevitable, St. Thomas Energy this week voluntarily halted the practice of winter disconnects for unpaid bills. The decision was made a day before the province pulled the plug on such action.
“The OEB (Ontario Energy Board) has strict rules about disconnects and time periods and we have to offer pay arrangements and we’ve always followed the OEB guidelines on that,” advised Rob Kent, acting CEO at St. Thomas Energy.
“We are voluntarily agreeing to the moratorium on disconnects.”
The obvious question is what leverage does St. Thomas Energy now have collecting overdue bills during cold weather months?
“You do lose leverage during the winter months when you can’t disconnect, but what no one has really looked at is what happens when that period ends and the customer has a substantial bill? How do you help them make arrangements and get caught up without getting disconnected in the spring and summer months? That is something we’re going to have to address.”
The promotion was called Sleepless In Our City, a well-intentioned fundraiser for the United Way of Elgin-St. Thomas. In capsule form, former MP Joe Preston and Tim Smart, the regional sales manager for a couple of local radio stations, were going to bundle up and spend the night sleeping – if possible – in the back seat of their respective cars. In the case of Tim, a Honda Civic.
(Full disclosure here, I spent several years as a volunteer on the United Way campaign cabinet and the entire team is to be applauded for raising in excess of $485,000 in this year’s campaign, as announced Friday evening.)
The media release from the United Way noted, “In Elgin St. Thomas, 20% of home owners and 42% of renters were spending more than 30% of their household income on shelter costs.”
Close to 50 individuals gathered Thursday in the YWCA gym for a municipal all-candidates meeting hosted by the Bridges out of Poverty program.
In a campaign dominated by seemingly endless debate over a home for the police service, those enjoying a simple lunch at the Y were seeking any sign of hope from candidates on grass-roots issues like poverty, homelessness and low-paying jobs.
For the most part, they had to chew on simplistic campaign fodder.
In fact, a couple of the candidates put forth an embarrassingly feeble effort as they attempted to answer the question, “How do you address poverty in St. Thomas?”
One individual spent most of his allotted time pushing his over-inflated bio on those in attendance and then dropped this clinker, “poverty is a whole bunch of little problems.”
Nice to know whether you can afford to pay the rent or buy food when there is too much month at the end of the money is one of those “little problems.” Continue reading →