- by John Tamming

On my way to the city council meeting last night I passed by twenty or so people in the rain outside city hall. Many were walking around with soggy cardboard boxes on their heads.

Inside the meeting, things were no more coherent. Inchoate anger could be sensed everywhere in the council chambers. People wanted something done about homelessness.

A resident of Neyaashiinigmiing asked city council what our plan was. Staff referred to recent projects and initiatives in Owen Sound which are funded by the county and the province. An addiction treatment facility for over 30 residents will be built at the top of 6th Street. A new county project across from the Sally Ann will host 14 beds. The county has a program now in which one call to a social worker will trigger immediate short term housing for a homeless person, likely a motel room. But this was not good enough - our interlocutor wanted to know what the CITY plan was, as though our ratepayers did not kick a lot of coin up to the county., as if the city were somehow lobotomized from the county.

A local poet lamented the harvesting of treelots along the shorefront and queried where the homeless would now pitch their tents.

Another speaker suggested the city house the homeless (estimated by him to be 500) within city buildings, though he was vague as to which buildings he meant - the Bayshore, the basement of City Hall, the water treatment facility? Also left unaddressed was the precise manner in which such housing would be staffed and funded by ratepayers who are already among the highest taxed in the province. The room applauded nevertheless.

A woman stood up and asked what we were going to do to make houses more affordable, as though our corporate department somehow had the leverage to push back on the macro-economic forces which render that cute little bungalow at $700,000 rather than the $300,000 it was 7 years ago.

We were told to demand that developers carve out some of their proposed housing for the indigent. When the chair pointed out that such mandates would violate provincial law and be reversed on any appeal, someone shouted out that we should tell the province to change its rules. Well, Ok.

Last night was about frustration and anger. It was about wearing cardboard boxes on one's head in order to send a message that council is not thinking outside of the box. As everyone settled in their seats, I was all ears about what we might do differently. I heard tremendous empathy and compassion and reminders but not a single coherent proposal. This should not surprise. This is a most intractable problem.

Mocking elected officials may play well to the press and on social media. It may make some people feel better. It may serve to kick out a bunch of councillors this October. But whether ridiculing councillors does more than that, whether it leads to the housing of a single person, remains to be seen.




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