Year-round homeless shelter in St. Thomas a step toward ‘the urgent goal of homes for all’


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the opening for the season at the homeless shelter serving St. Thomas and Elgin, what was once deemed “possible and probable” is set to become a reality.
A reality, mind you, that is a sad reminder of day-to-day life for the homeless and near homeless in the community.
Gathered outside Inn Out of the Cold, housed at Central United Church, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston announced Thursday (Oct. 3) the short-term shelter that has served as a ray of hope to the homeless for the past 10 years is to become a year-round shelter service.
This will be achieved through a two-model approach, explained executive director Lori Fitzgerald.
“Our normal model is that we open November through April. We open at 6 p.m. for a hot meal and we offer some activities and programs to move people forward and connect them to services.
“That is followed by a good night’s sleep in a warm place and a good breakfast before heading out at 8 a.m.”

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Change of environment accompanied by a climate of controversy for MPP Jeff Yurek


city_scope_logo-cmykCan’t imagine Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP would immediately suggest enjoyable to describe his first week as the province’s head of the environment, conservation and parks ministry.
Just days after the cabinet shuffle that moved Yurek out of the transportation portfolio, he found himself in Halifax this past Thursday (June 27) at a meeting of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
The gathering allowed ministers the opportunity to brainstorm on such issues as plastic waste, climate change, air quality, and wastewater.
In a release issued following the discussions, Yurek noted “we are deeply disappointed that (federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine) Minister McKenna continues to focus on her tax plan, disguised as a climate change measure, and refuses to respect the legitimate ways provinces and territories, including Ontario, are tackling climate change in their own unique jurisdictions.”

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Is sensitivity training sufficient deterrent to deal with workplace harassment at city hall?


city_scope_logo-cmykExactly four years ago, we wrote at length about workplace harassment at city hall, referring to it as a “toxic environment.”
At that time, we postulated the City of St. Thomas, as a corporation, should be held to a high standard of excellence with regard to a workplace environment.
The issue in 2015 involved a city employee we identified as ‘Dave’ and his allegations of verbal and physical abuse involving fellow employees and managers.
In a conversation in June of that year with human resources manager Graham Dart, he conceded “As an employer, we don’t have to guarantee a harassment-free workplace, because we can’t do that.
“There is no expectation or requirement of that. But there is an obligation on our part — especially under the Occupational Health & Safety Act — that we address harassment in the workplace.”

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Third-party audit at St. Thomas Early Learning Centre overshadowed by disturbing allegations


city_scope_logo-cmykWhat began this spring as a third-party audit undertaken by the city has escalated into a series of shocking and disturbing allegations and counter-allegations involving the St. Thomas Early Learning Centre – which operates childcare facilities in four different locations – and its former executive director Patricia Riddell-Laemers.
The allegations include a claim by Riddell-Laemers she was sexually assaulted by a member of the St. Thomas Police Service who was on the centre’s board of directors.
As background, City Scope was contacted in March by a former staffer at an Early Learning Centre in St. Thomas with information on the departure of Riddell-Laemers, the disbursement of top-up pay ear-marked for staff and allegations some individuals may have been wrongfully dismissed. Continue reading

The departure of CMHA Elgin executive director ‘moved the needle in the right direction’


city_scope_logo-cmyk“All things are positive from the get-go.”
That’s the upbeat assessment of the working environment at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association after the Southwest Local Health Integration Network took a unique approach by appointing a supervisor for the St. Thomas/Elgin operation.
That move, initiated this past spring, was prompted by the report from healthcare consultant Ron McRae which pointed to numerous issues of poor governance and a lack of oversight.
Things had sunk to such a level last October that an information picket was held outside the Centre Street office in St. Thomas by staff – represented by OPSEU Local 133 – who claimed they were working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety. Continue reading

Eliminating sexual harassment: “It’s a cultural shift” – A candid conversation with MP Karen Vecchio


city_scope_logo-cmykIn a recent survey of female MPs conducted by Canadian Press, more than half (58 per cent) reported having personally experienced some form of sexual misconduct during their term in office.
The process for handling complaints of harassment – established in 2014 – was considered difficult to evaluate by one-third of respondents. They called it a first step, but insufficient on its own.
But perhaps the real story emanating from the survey is the fact only 38 of 89 female MPs took the time to participate in the voluntary, anonymous survey.
One who chose not to respond was Conservative MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, Karen Vecchio.
We caught up with her this week and she offered some candid insight into sexual harassment, an obstacle she has not faced in politics. Continue reading

You’d expect a healthy workplace environment at the Canadian Mental Health Association, wouldn’t you?


city_scope_logo-cmykThey deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the community, but staff at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association say they are struggling with their own unbearable stress.
And now, members of OPSEU Local 133 are breaking the silence.
Bolstered by CMHA members from Oxford, about two dozen staff took a stand outside the Centre Street office where they claim to be working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety.
According to Carol Warner, OPSEU staff representative, St. Thomas employees are consistently targeted and penalized by upper management for speaking up about health, safety and other workplace concerns.
“It’s hideous, it’s a long-standing issue,” notes Warner. “I would say it’s a systemic issue. We have grievances in the docket that are, at a minimum, four or five years old. And the grievance program has flaws as well.
“If one decides to, they can influence how quickly or how slowly the grievance process unfolds.” Continue reading