The special Council meeting on homelessness on Monday July 4 had two overlapping motions to approve or modify, essentially: 1) should there be a moratorium on enforcing by-laws prohibiting camping in Cobourg’s Parks? and 2) what should be done longer term to help Cobourg’s homeless? The final approved motions are provided below. But before Council debated, there were 10 delegations who mostly spoke about the bad experiences of being homeless. Not all wanted a moratorium on enforcing By-Laws – most just wanted affordable housing. After the delegations council debated the two motions with most time spent on the first one on banning encampments. Neither of the two Options by staff were fully endorsed although the motion by Suzanne did include the statement: “… maintain the enforcement of Municipal By-Laws currently in place”.
- Michael Brown – Rental housing is now unaffordable but encampments are not the solution. What about winter?
- Keith Oliver – suggested that people with large only partly used houses like his could open their homes or expand them but he was looking for guidance on how to do this. He suggested an agency to coordinate available housing.
- Peter Howes – Encampments should not be allowed – considering population relative to the county, Cobourg’s problem is only 6 people.
- Missy McLean – Skilled professionals are needed to handle affected people. Most stayed at Transition House but capacity is limited. Many are banned from Motels (paid by the County). It’s an emotional issue.
- Rev Neil Ellis – provided written statement.
- Brad Bridges – Provided a written statement. He works enough to pay but cannot get rental accommodation.
- Dr Alyson King – Everyone has a right to housing – it’s a Government responsibility. There needs to be better coordination of existing efforts. More here.
- Meghan Sheffield – Rising house prices means rents are going up and becoming unaffordable – she gave an emotional example of a neighbour.
- Nicole Whitmore – provided a written statement listing 9 people needing help. Download here. Worth a read.
- Shannon Basso – Shelter is a human right. Seniors in particular are losing housing as house prices go up. They are terrified of becoming homeless. Options are to rent a room, go outside the county or sleep in a car.
As expected there was considerable debate but mostly consensus. Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin made a motion – modified from the one on the Agenda – that continued the prohibition of camping but had additions: coordination with the County and other agencies, storing personal belongings for 2 weeks and the CAO to report to Council regularly.
Here are highlights of what was said in the debate:
- Suzanne Séguin – moved the motion (see below) although the last paragraph about the CAO report was added after debate.
- CAO Tracey Vaughan – we are working with the County and other community partners. We need new ways to meet the needs of the homeless; the solution must be sustainable; we need community engagement.
- Mayor John Henderson – The county gets funding to look after this and if more funding is needed we work with MPP Piccini. Although he represents Cobourg at the County, he seemed to see his role there as looking after County interests and not just Cobourg.
- Aaron Burchat – were unused buildings considered? The response was that funding is limited.
- Emily Chorley – could the CAO keep Council updated? Yes. The last paragraph of Suzanne’s motion was added to make sure of this.
- Brian Darling – encouraged the delegates to take their case to the County. He asked the CAO to ask the County to take the lead and she agreed.
- Nicole Beatty – expressed concern about liability as described in the Staff report (page 13 of staff report – download here). Nicole also asked about where belongings were stored. Currently they are at the Works Department but a Downtown location is being investigated. She also said that there is no answer to “where do folks go?” CAO Tracy Vaughan agreed.
- Adam Bureau – What do Police and Fire Departments think? Chief Vandegraaf responded that he asked other Towns and found that significantly more work (and cost) would be needed if encampments were allowed. The Fire Chief said he would be concerned for safety because of propane heaters, fires and Carbon monoxide but he can’t help if not told about a situation.
Motion by Suzanne Séguin
THAT Council receive the Staff Report for information purposes; and
FURTHER THAT Council maintain the enforcement of Municipal By-Laws currently in place conducted by Municipal Law Enforcement Officers: and
FURTHER THAT Council endorse a revised Encampment Response PIan by the By-law Department for coordination with the County of Northumberland Homelessness Coordinated Response Team (HCRT) in order to establish a coordinated systemic multi-agency response to those sleeping rough in the Town of Cobourg to facilitate person-centered engagement opportunities and individualized connections to community based supports, including dignified housing/shelter options; and
FURTHER THAT in the event of an encampment site being cleaned up, everyone’s personal belongings are stored for a period of two weeks and notification provided for pick up; and
THAT Council direct the CAD to provide an oral report to Municipal Council on Homelessness in the Town of Cobourg as a standing report under General Government Services.
Passed unanimously in a recorded vote
The second motion by Councillor Nicole Beatty was also significantly modified and ended up with only three action paragraphs. Even then, there was significant debate on whether Councillors should make a delegation to County Council. Suzanne Séguin said that this was not necessary since Cobourg’s Mayor John Henderson already represented Cobourg on the Community Social Services Standing Committee (as Chair) and on the County Council itself. She also pointed out that Cobourg was already working with the County and MPP David Piccini on possible uses of Brookside so the third paragraph about Brookside and its use for affordable housing was also redundant.
Motion by Nicole Beatty
THAT Council call on Northumberland County Council, staff and its service providers to work with the Town of Cobourg to establish an immediate solution to increasing the supply of indoor accommodation and providing street outreach support through the implementation of an Encampment Response Plan.
AND FURTHER THAT Council direct senior staff based on availability and two (2) members of Council to make a delegation to Northumberland County Community Social Services Standing Committee on July 6, 2022 at 1:00 P.M and at their next scheduled Regular Council meeting on July 20th, 2022 or through the procedures of the County Procedural Bylaw for the next cycle of County Council Meetings.
AND FURTHER THAT Council direct staff to engage with Infrastructure Ontario and MPP David Piccini and Northumberland County to repurpose, refurbish or rebuild a small portion of the former Brookside property to explore immediate housing options in response to the local housing crisis.
Passed in a recorded vote 6 – 1 with Suzanne against.
You can be sure that we will continue to see more action on this subject. It’s likely to be an election issue and there will be regular reminders as the CAO reports to Council meetings.