Advisory Group Sets Six Priorities For Homelessness and Downtown Issues

In the midst of an election where housing affordability, homelessness and mental health and addition issues are all on the frontburner, the City of Guelph is announcing some direction. Following up on a July vote by the current city council to approve a new Strategic Advisory Group on issues affecting downtown Guelph, the group itself has now announced its six strategic priorities to tackle those problems.

“In our first meeting, we agreed on six priorities that will help ensure our downtown continues to be a thriving place where everyone feels welcome and safe. Work is currently underway to put those priorities into action. We will be reporting publicly on our progress every step of the way,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie in a statement.

“It has taken a while to get here, but we have consensus on a plan to move forward among a committed, collaborative group of changemakers. My role is to help ensure we make measurable progress – for individuals, businesses, visitors, and the entire community,” added Guthrie’s co-chair Shakiba Shayani, who is also the president and CEO of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

The six priorities announced by the group are split into three areas: immediate, medium, and medium to long-term. The stated vision is to create a thriving downtown that is prosperous, activated and welcoming; that has effective health and social service delivery; and where everyone feels safe and everyone feels like they belong.

In the short term, the plan is to accelerate already approved permanent supportive housing projects at Grace Gardens on Woolwich, Kindle Communities on Shelldale, Wellington County’s project on Delhi Street, and the Wyndham House expansion. Other goals are to enhance and expand daytime and overnight services and facilities, including wrap-around services, and to enhance “perceived and real” safety in the core, including increased police presence, Welcoming Streets staff and reducing litter.

The one medium term goal is to strengthen community resilience and prevention through the Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan, which calls for creating a “sustainable community where everyone is safe, has a sense of belonging, opportunities to participate, and where people and families can meet their needs for education, healthcare, food, housing, income, and social and cultural expression.”

In terms of longer term goals, the group will look at the ways that community supports can be changed or increased in a way that can better support people in need, and also step-up engagement with upper levels of government including the development of sustainable funding for various programs. Both the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington are presently funding programs like Welcoming Streets, and additional hours of service at Royal City Mission through one-time funding renewed annually.

Other members of the group include Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield, Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner, Wellington County Warden Kelly Linton, the County’s director of housing Mark Poste, Guelph CAO Scott Stewart, United Way executive director Glenna Banda, Guelph Police Chief Gord Cobey, Canadian Mental Health Association executive director Helen Fishburn, Stonehenge Therapeutic executive director Kristen Kerr, Guelph Community Health Centre CEO Melissa Kwiatkowski, Guelph Library CEO Steve Kraft, Guelph & Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination director Dominica McPherson, Bookshelf co-owner Ben Minnett, Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams, and Downtown Revitalization Advisor with the City Stacey Laughlin.

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