StreetPerson 3rdAve 30Aug22 012

A booklet was placed on every member's desk at the most recent meeting of the River District Board of Management (RDBM) (formerly the Downtown Improvement Area).

The Homelessness Response Toolkit was developed as collaboration between Iain De Jong from OrgCode and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) to provide approaches and practical strategies for best responding to homelessness and related issues in the commercial areas of communities.

The following is a transcript of some of the conversation around downtown homelessness, the toolkit and the response in the River District that took place under “Other Business” at that meeting. It can viewed here, beginning at minute 40.

David Parsons (Chair): I'm wondering if there is a group that is going to try and come up with the answers to some of the things that are discussed in that brochure.

Marion Koepke (City representative): There are certainly a lot of good things in here . I haven't got a clue who we should send this to. Could staff have a suggestion on who's looking into these kind of issues because I know downtown is really becoming an issue right now. So maybe staff can give some assistance on where this should be sent.

Maybe it should be circulated to all the DIA membership?

Parsons: That has been done already and I don't think there has been much of a response.homeless

Viveca Gravel (Community Development Coordinator, City of Owen Sound): It has been distributed in every single newsletter since we've had it in our hands. We've also distributed it to the Chamber, Grey County has a copy, and it has been distributed to a few parties within the City as well. To follow up, there is always follow up, so thank you Marion for bringing it to the forefront. It has been circulated endlessly because that is the kind of information I like to pass around.

Parsons: The question becomes, has anyone acted on some of that information that is being called for in that [toolkit] for the city of Owen Sound?

Jeff Fluney (Owen Sound Police Services representative): Our role as Police Service is trying to connect them [the homeless] with services, trying to encourage them to use the housing options that are available. When it comes right down to it , without going into all the issues around it, you can't force somebody to accept the help. We have all these things available, we have our mental health response team, our partnership with the CMHA where we have the workers out with the officers. Our officers are all trained, they have the tools they have all the things to be able to offer these people that are in these situations but these people have to be willing to accept it, and that is the problem.

You can't criminalize homelessness. You can't go and arrest people for being homeless. You can't issue ticket upon ticket upon ticket and they have no means to pay for these offences. As for arresting people for criminal offences, we do that.

Brian O'Leary (City representative): {Speaking of conferences he has attended in municipalities across Canada: Regina, Ottawa, Nova Scotia, Quebec City} Homelessness is raging out of control in downtowns everywhere. In Regina, a hotel on a beautiful street, you have to watch where you're stepping when you come out the front door because they are everywhere. ...In Quebec City, a beautiful're sitting on your patio and there's a whole block and it's all empty stores and homeless people, it's just a disaster....

It's not just Owen Sound, and I find it disappointing when people, especially with the election, people are saying our downtown is deteriorating. Are you kidding me? We just talked about it tonight – 18% our vacancy rate was in 2014. Our downtown is thriving. It is. It's clean as a whip and beautiful.

But we have a homelessness problem. The same problem that every municipality has in Canada. And so we have to separate that.

(Mr.O'Leary spoke at greater length of Public Health and Grey County long-term responses to the factors contributing to homelessness, in his comments in the discussion in the final hour of the meeting, viewable here, stariting at minute 40.)

There is a long way to go and it has to be done at all levels of government right across the board.

Parsons: I'd just like to say that certainly things have improved greatly in many respects, but this is not one of them. Nobody wants an outcome of criminalizing homelessness and I truly feel the pain that is say out there. I'm just not sure how anyone can go about helping the homeless such that they end up in a better place, but I do feel that as a community , we need to somehow deal with problem that is out there....

I do have the awareness that in fact some people are quite concerned about walking our streets and feeling unsafe. I have to say that most of that is unjustified just because I walk them as often as I walk them and have got to know a number of these people and say hello to them and they are quite surprised that I would even say hello. But because I do what I do and go banking and what not, it's quite okay for them to be where they're at. And again, it's not an answer, but I think we all have to respect the fact that they are a presence and help in whatever way we can.

....In a sense I'd like to say it is not our problem, but it is, because we are the ones that walk the streets and see the issues that face us. And when it comes to this agenda, who do we call? And if somebody does want help, a waiting list isn't good enough.

Again, that's not an answer, but it is a recognition of a problem that we as well as other services need to address.

- Hub staff




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