I chaired the first meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness and Community Safety yesterday. It was a stage-setting meeting where we talked about what the issues are, what’s being done already, and what some potential solutions are. In our next meeting, we will dig in to making a priority list of solutions.
Here are my introductory remarks from the meeting:
Welcome/ Thank you
I want to thank everyone for agreeing to serve on this Task Force. I know you’re all extremely busy – but when I asked for your help, you all immediately said “yes.” Thank you!
The Warden of the County of Wellington, Kelly Linton, has agreed to participate in the Task Force as Co-Chair, but he is unfortunately unable to make our two meetings because of scheduling conflicts. I will be sure to keep him updated. As most of you know, the County delivers Social Services for both the City and the County – including services related to housing, homelessness, income support, and children’s services. There are a number of County staff in the room today, and I am grateful that the County is participating in this initiative.
Context/ Set the stage
I want to take a couple of minutes to set the stage for the work we’re about to do, and let you know where I’m coming from – and what I hope we will achieve together.
I had two experiences in the Fall that were a bit of a wake-up call for me in terms of the urgency of this issue.
The first was when I visited the tent city that had been set up on York Road and talked to some of the people who lived there.
We all know there are places in the city where people are “living rough.” But I was taken aback by the size and scale of this location. It affected me when I talked to the residents and heard about their struggles with poverty, addictions, and mental health.
I thought, there is no way, in a prosperous city like Guelph, that we can turn a blind eye and accept that people are living like this. We have to do something – and quickly.
The second experience was when I began knocking on doors during the election campaign.
At house after house, on doorstep after doorstep, people were talking about the same thing – safety.
Quite frankly, people are tired of their cars getting broken into. They don’t feel safe walking at night. Children are seeing needles in parks.
This is not something I heard much about 4 years ago. We seem to have reached a tipping point.
Fairly or not, people tend to blame people who are homeless or using drugs for these issues.
At the same time, when we talk about safety, the people most at risk are those who do not have a safe place to sleep every night. They are the ones most at risk of violence. They are the ones most at risk of getting their belongings stolen.
So that’s what brought me to this point. I knew that one of my first priorities in this term of office had to be addressing homelessness and community safety – and the related problems of addictions and mental health.
I also knew that the City cannot tackle these issues on our own. I knew that I needed to bring together the experts, agencies, and community leaders who have been working on this for many years. That’s all of you – So thank you again for answering the call.
Goal/ what I want to achieve
If I could wave a magic wand, my ultimate goal would be to end homelessness in the city of Guelph. Everyone would have the shelter they need. No one would be sleeping in parks or bank machine lobbies.
That means meeting the needs of people with some of the most complex challenges. It’s more than just a bed to sleep on at night. It means meeting all their complex needs – including addiction and mental health supports.
So that’s my big-picture goal. What is my goal for this Task Force?
I want us to come up with a list of things we can do to move the needle on meeting those needs. And then I want us to make a plan to go out and get it done.
I’ve said publicly – I am not looking for more talk. I am looking for action.
That means we need to focus on things we can do soon. We need to focus on ideas that have already been studied and evaluated. We need to focus on ideas that are doable and achievable.
I boil it down to 3 criteria for potential solutions:
- Is it feasible?
- Does it have enough impact on the problem?
- Is it sustainable? Can we keep it going?
Plan for meetings:
We’re going to have two meetings.
In the first meeting today, we’re going to hear some presentations that focus on the problems we’re trying to solve, and offer some potential solutions.
Next week, we’re going to compile the list of potential solutions – including any that Task Force members want to add – and plot them on an impact-effort matrix. This will help us decide which solutions rise to the top, in terms of something that is achievable and will make a difference as soon as possible.
These are not simple issues – they are issues that every municipality faces, and no one has yet found a magic solution to them.
We are going to be talking about difficult issues, and I know there are going to be some uncomfortable moments. I will be challenging you, and please don’t be afraid to challenge me too.
All that I ask is that everyone be as open and candid as possible. We are all in this together.
Introduction of presentations:
I have said all along that I want to amplify and build on the great work that is already happening in our city around these issues.
There are two groups that have been at the forefront: The Guelph-Wellington Poverty Task Force and the Wellington-Drug Strategy.
These two groups receive funding from the City and the County. They are collaborations of many different front-line organizations and agencies. They have a good handle on the issues and the potential solutions.
I’m very pleased that these groups have offered to give presentations to us today, to set the stage for the work ahead. I want to thank Dominica MacPherson, who heads up the Poverty Task Force, and Adrienne Crowder, who leads the Drug Strategy – not only for their work in getting this Task Force going, but for the work they have done for many years on these issues in our community.
With that, I will welcome up Dominica McPherson and Ryan Pettipiere, Director of Housing for the County of Wellington, who will be giving the first presentation.
Here are my notes that I took during the meeting:
- $733 a month for Ontario Works
- April 2018 Time count
- 261 Individuals found to be experiencing homelessness in Guelph
- 22% said addiction or substance abuse
- Coordinated Entry System – Moving from managing to a response method that was “coordinated”
- It was a tracking system, knowing them by name
- Philosophy = Housing first – this is the key!
- Chronic – Defined as 6 or more months within the last year
- Data informed approach – allows to track progress
- They created a team in Guelph – to set local goals – # of active individuals is going down. So it’s working but more needs to be done.
- Need to strengthen relationships with institutions (like prisons)
- Story of Rene and Bob
- High level criminals aren’t seen and may want to hurt your family, the low-level is seen, that’s why a bike is stolen or tools are stolen from a truck
- Affordable housing reserve
- Four pillars are = Harm Reduction, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, Community Safety
- Supportive recovery room
- Ambulance calls are increasing and increasing
- Addictions Court Support Worker needed
Next meeting is Jan 24th where we will nail down clear recommendations to be forwarded onto the right agency or partner. Also financial or budgetary asks will be sent to the right place if required.
Thank you to everyone involved so far! If you have any suggestions please feel free to email: Mayor@Guelph.ca