Help is coming, and it must be a community-wide effort. These are the messages that Mayor Cam Guthrie wanted his Task Force on Homelessness and Community Safety to leave their second meeting with. Exactly when people in need will start seeing the outcome of these deliberations is still a question though.
Guthrie opened the concluding portion of Thursday’s task force meeting to the media, where members reviewed the commitment and directions they’re pursuing in the days and weeks ahead. “The next stage is to reach out to those people that were identified today, and bring those people together to make these things actually work,” said Guthrie.
The task force settled on about half-a-dozen proposals in the short-term. Some of these are straightforward like continuing the Welcoming Streets Initiative and court support workers program. Other directions will look at building permanent, fully staffed supportive housing, and reopening the supportive recovery room, which was a pilot project that expired without permanent funding that offered care for people too ill for shelters, but not sick enough to go to the hospital.
The task force will also look at the needs of the homeless in terms of providing them some place to go overnight, on the weekends and on holidays, where they can just get out of the cold, have someplace to sit, and maybe enjoy a hot drink and a snack.
Guthrie explained that while many of these directions require funding, there may be donations and services already available that could fill the void. “We have to figure out who’s going to step up to the plate on some of these [initiatives] that can be implemented now,” he said.
“It’s so very obvious that a lot of the things in the room are so completely doable, and are budgeted related,” Guthrie added.
Yes, the Budget.
The Tax-Supported Operating Budget will be passed by City Council on March 5, so Guthrie thinks the timing is right to get the necessary funding for the directions brought forward by the task force.
“I’ve already made it clear that these will be extra requests over and above the ask that is being presented by staff,” Guthrie said. “So the recommendations that came out of here that are in the municipal realm, I will be presenting that to council for them to decide as an add-on to the budget.”
Adrienne Crowder of the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy noted that ongoing, secure funding is always an issue. “I think this community’s awesome in trying to make things happen, but we really need to think about how we pool the budgets, and find a way to get services back into the community,” she said.
While the group was trying to leave with positivity, one voice still had reservations about actually progress made.
Tina Brophey, a peer member of the Task Force with lived experience being homeless, said that she didn’t feel a sense of urgency, and that the message being sent is that the ambulance will be here in five years. “I fell like I’m going to walk out of these doors and ask, ‘What’s changing?'” she said.
“It’s our responsibility to prove you wrong,” said Guthrie.
After the meeting, Brophey did credit the mayor for tackling the issue. “I’ve seen a turnaround a little bit with the mayor on his perceptions of homelessness and people who are homeless,” she said.
As to the task force, Brophey said that some key people were missing from the deliberations including faith-based groups, the Downtown Guelph Business Association, and the people the DGBA represents.
“I sit at a lot of these ‘poverty tables’ and you don’t see the businesses as much, and business is really important as employers, but also as members of the community,” Brophey explained. “Linamar’s making the big call out for people to come [here] from all over Canada, but we have one of the lowest vacancy rates, so what happens?”
Brophey added that for the people she works with, having a “a warm dry place that someone can go to at two in the morning,” would be a big help in the short-term, but as to the long-term effectiveness of the Task Force, she’ll wait and see.
“I think its always powerful to have power in the room, to have these groups gather, and I’ve seen it happen at meetings where they say, ‘Oh, I can do that!’ or ‘I have a staff member that can do that!'” she said. “I think it can happen, and the only way it happens is collaboration because no one can afford anything on their own.
“But is it effective? I hope so,” she added. “That’s the best I can say.”
Back during the meeting, Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield said that for government forces to align, the community needs a united voice to get attention. “We need that reality check,” said Longfield, “and things aren’t going to happen by five o’clock tonight. It’s people outside this room we have to influence.”
Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner agreed with Longfield saying that the biggest barrier facing the initiatives of the task force now is funding.
“We need to issue a challenge to the broader community, and when we challenge the community, we need people to step up,” he said.
“I intend to use the strength of the mayor’s office to do that,” Guthrie said after the meeting. “I am already writing my State of the City address that will be coming in the first week of February, and that is going to call on the business community.”
What kind of call? “It’s a call to action,” Guthrie said, “sort of a menu of things that are needed in the community to be able to address these issues.”
The mayor promised that a full report of the task force’s deliberations will be available sometime in the next week.
Among the people that took part in the task force were representatives of the Legal Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County, the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, the Guelph Police Service, Wyndham House, Homewood, the Welcome In Drop In Centre, Hope House, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Wellington County OPP, Stonehenge Therapeutic, United Way, Toward Common Ground, and the County of Wellington.