Special Council Meeting on Homelessness

At the last Regular Council meeting, a delegation by 7 people, who said they were homeless residents of Cobourg, asked Council to immediately suspend enforcement of by-Laws prohibiting camping and otherwise living in Cobourg’s Parks by people who are otherwise homeless.  Councillors were reluctant to take any action until responsible authorities such as the County, Police, the District Health Unit and By-Law officers were consulted.  The delegation asked that they also be consulted.  The time frame for suspension would be until all the homeless people were provided with homes.  In the end, Staff were asked to provide a comprehensive report in time to be presented at a Council meeting specially called to consider this plus a motion by Councillor Beatty to develop an “Encampment Response Plan”.  The meeting will be at 4:00 pm in Council Chambers on Monday July 4.

I initially decided that I would only report on this meeting after it was held but there were so many heated off-topic comments on the Canada Day parade post that I decided some advance notice of the meeting should be made available to Cobourg residents who might be concerned about our Parks being taken over by these folk.  You can access the Agenda here.

Ten people have registered to present their opinion as delegates at the meeting – two have already presented at last week’s meeting (marked *).

Delegations

All are supportive of a suspension of ByLaws by the Town and allowing encampments. (Links are to documents on Town’s web site)

  • Michael Brown. Speaking on Homelessness in the Community – personal experience – suggested locations. Delegation Request
  • Keith Oliver. Speaking on Homelessness in the Community – wants to speak after others – has solutions. Delegation Request
  • Peter Howes. Regarding the Development of an Encampment Response Plan for the Town of Cobourg.   Delegation Request
  • Missy McLean. Moms Stop the Harm, regarding Sheltering and Homelessness in the Community.  Supports allowing camping in Parks  Delegation Request
  • Rev. Neil Ellis. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Regarding Sheltering in the Town of Cobourg. Supports suspending of ByLaws  Delegation Request
  • Brad Bridges *, Regarding experiences in Homelessness in Cobourg.  Sharing homelessness experience  Delegation Request
  • Dr. Alyson King, Regarding Haplessness and Sheltering in Cobourg.  Housing is a human right. Delegation Request
  • Meghan Sheffield *, Cobourg Resident, Regarding experiences and thoughts on sheltering on public lands.  Supports suspending by-laws  Delegation Request
  • Nicole Whitmore, Regarding written statements of those unsheltered in the Town of Cobourg  Supports suspending by-laws.  Delegation Request
  • Shannon Basso, the Help Centre. Regarding work being done by the Help Centre to support Seniors facing Homelessness in our Community.  Delegation Request

Solutions include:

  • Increasing the capacity of Transition House
  • Adding more overflow motel units
  • Using surplus buildings in Town like the old Golden Plough and the Memorial Arena
  • Use the Trailer Park or Brookside.

The United Nations Protocol for Homeless Encampments has been quoted as applicable but its intent is more for much larger groups and is anyway not legally binding.

It’s not known why the delegates feel the need to retell their – no doubt unpleasant – experiences since Councillors, staff and anyone else for that matter all agree that the homeless situation must be addressed.  What’s not agreed is how this should be done.  Since none of the delegates seem to be against opening up Parks to the homeless, it seems appropriate to list some of the counter-arguments mentioned by commenters on this blog:

  • The County is officially responsible so they should provide a solution. 
  • If By-Laws can be ignored, enforcement of many issues can be ignored by anyone (BBQs, dogs on the beach, tents on the beach, littering etc)
  • If camping is allowed, the word will spread and Cobourg will be invaded with people from Peterborough, Durham and even Toronto. [Meghan Sheffield has said the homeless people she speaks for: “… have lived here for many years, some for all their lives, some for many generations. Our unsheltered neighbours have not arrived from ‘somewhere else.'”]
  • Health and liability concerns means that sanitation and water must be provided and there will be concerns about campfires and other fire hazards (See staff report – page 17).

Staff Report

Staff (Director Brent Larmer) must have burnt midnight oil since a 24 page report was provided by June 30. Download here [If you only download one thing, this would be it]

Cobourg Police Board Chair, Dean Pepper and Chief of Police, Paul VandeGraaf also provided a report saying that Police should not be primary response for homeless issues but the “creation of designated encampment(s) will require a concerted police response  …. (with an) unbudgeted staffing expense that could range from $102,000 to $140,000.”

The Staff report made these points:

  • The issue is complex – there are many different types of need
  • The County is responsible and do have plans and are taking action – their recent report to County Council is here  
  • There are several groups already working on finding solutions: Homelessness Coordinated Response Team (HCRT); Homelessness Leadership Group (HLG). Each work with many other groups such as Cornerstone, Transition House, Greenwood Coalition, Salvation Army.
  • People have been sleeping rough … for the past few years at different times of the year in very limited numbers, however, in the recent year and since COVID, By-law has seen an increase in the number of people erecting tents in municipal parks from three (3) to five (5) a year to now twelve (12) since January and four (4) just this month.
  • Transition House currently has “22 shelter beds (18 in the house and 6 in motel) and they have just been funded for an additional 10 beds in motel”.
  • By-Law enforcement is reactive – that is responding to a citizen complaint. They give campers 48 hours notice.  In future, they will get HCRT involved and make sure any personal property is available for pickup by the camper.
  • There is a liability concern.  The Town could be held responsible for the welfare of anyone on Town Property. “…locations may need to be provided with portable toilets, potable water, garbage containers, frequent maintenance and cleaning and daily by-law monitoring and enforcement during a 24/7 hour period.”
  • Not all individuals who are choosing to shelter in parks and municipally owned property will want to engage with staff and a response team to receive the opportunity to receive available shelter space and receive specific services for their needs.  Staff will need training on how to handle this.
  • There has been no public engagement on this subject and this should be done.

Options (summary)

Option 1 –  Recommended

Status Quo but with more collaboration with the County

Option 2 – Not recommended

An interim short-sighted option rather than funding the solution which is to put funding towards more affordable housing options.

Suspend the enforcement of the Parks Use By-law regarding the camping in Municipal Parks and the hours of operation (park curfew) for municipal parks, maintain the enforcement of the Nuisance By-law, and direct Staff to provide certain services such as dedicated By-law Enforcement staffing, security, showers, and dedicated programming, Power, Water, Garbage disposal Cooking abilities (outdoor BBQs, communal space)

Estimated Cost for one location – July to November  $134,500. Not budgeted.

Look for a vigorous debate on Monday and a report on this blog afterwards.

Print Article: 

 

40 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Informed
5 July 2022 11:36 am

I wonder if any agency has attempted to identify the homeless in the area and find out what resources and help they may need as opposed to just a place to sleep. Some may be able to return home to family or friends if they were suffering from mental health problems or addiction and they were assisted to deal with the actual issues that may have attributed to their homelessness.

Lemon Cake
5 July 2022 2:36 am

I read the report with interest. The recommendation is clearly to maintain status quo and ensure that police stick to the by-laws when removing people. It seems like they have not been providing the required 24-48 hours to allow people to move on – they’ve also been discarding people’s belongings (memorabilia, clothing, ID documents etc) in the clearing process which is creating additional hardship. Better police training is needed. I found the report very informative and I encourage people to read it.

Cobourg taxpayer
4 July 2022 9:21 pm

I did attend the council meeting today but only made it through the delegations. I didn’t have the energy to hear council discussion afterwards. Two observations of note: one delegate did say one of the reasons rough camping should be allowed was her clients had been removed from Transition House and local motels as they did not follow the rules, therefore rough camping was their only option. All agreed that housing must be provided somehow for all. Looking forward to reading about council discussion.

Matt
4 July 2022 2:54 pm

There is a significant cross-over between the town’s homelessness problem and the town’s hard drug problem. There are a lot of reasons for this but it is an undeniable fact.

In Cobourg, at the present time, a homeless encampment will, unfortunately, also serve as an open-air drug market/shooting gallery and that will, to say the least, not be pretty.

Kathleen
Reply to  Matt
4 July 2022 4:56 pm

Not if they are housed in one place with a ‘no drug’ policy. I spent 5 years volunteering for Out Of The Cold in Toronto. NOBODY did drugs at the Shelter. Did they arrive drunk or stoned? Yes. But they needed food and a place to sleep and that was their number one priority when they arrived. If they were housed in one place, volunteers could ensure no drugs were being brought in. If, invariably, someone would try to break the rule, then the police were called. They rarely were called.

Matt
Reply to  Kathleen
4 July 2022 5:34 pm

I was referring to allowing encampments/tent cities in public parks.

I think what you’re describing is the right approach. The question is whether anyone is willing to pay for it.

Kathleen
Reply to  Matt
4 July 2022 6:33 pm

Sorry. You are correct, various encampments won’t work. A dedicated spot is required.

Frenchy
Reply to  Kathleen
4 July 2022 9:49 pm

“Not if they are housed in one place with a ‘no drug’ policy.”
”volunteers could ensure no drugs were being brought in”

You mean like the way our prison system (supposedly) works? Lots of stories around that it’s just as easy to get drugs in prison as it is on the streets.

Bryan
4 July 2022 11:18 am

Some of the solutions suggested by commenters are worth consideration. Ben’s suggestion to use Memorial arena, for example. Others have suggested using Brookside.
 
This issue is not unique to Cobourg. Port Hope and other Northumberland County municipalities are facing the same challenges.
 
As JH points out, the County is responsible for this. The County seems to have dropped the ball and no one seems to be calling them on it.
 
To their credit, Staff prepared and issued a timely and well-prepared report to Council outlining the issues and solution alternatives. The staff report also makes it very clear that the County is responsible for this issue and solutions.
 
Clr Beatty’s motion is far less on point and, for me, seems to be more about political posturing for the upcoming municipal election. She does make an interesting suggestion however, a Cobourg Council delegation to the County.
 
This is “out of the box” thinking, perhaps with some merit, considering the leadership vacuum that Cobourg mayor John Henderson seems to present at County Council.
Has he spoken on this issue or put forth motions requiring the County to fulfill its mandate in this regard? I have seen no reports or indications of him doing so.
 
The staff report makes note of:

  • the Northumberland County Housing and Homeless Plan,
  • the Homelessness Coordinated Response Team (HCRT) and
  • the Homelessness Leadership Group (HLG)

 
I doubt many Cobourgers know about this plan, team/group.
More to the point, whatever this plan proposed and the team/group are doing, there seems to be little positive effect visible to the general public. Lots of reports and ten-year plans.
 
Continued in Part 2

Bryan
Reply to  Bryan
4 July 2022 11:19 am

Part 2

As Staff notes on:
Social Services Relief Funding, and
the Community Outreach Program
“The Town of Cobourg has received general oral information on these funding programs, but are still waiting for information from the County on how it is supporting our residents.”
 
Also in the Staff report is a discussion of the Community Safety and Well-Being Plan. The County identified several priorities, the first priority was:
 
Priority A: Homelessness and Affordable Housing.
This priority has put into place four (4) goals:
1. Align leadership from the Collaborative with current Housing and Homelessness Plan goals
2. Ensure more support is available to meet the needs of precariously housed people; develop and implement prevention approaches to enable people to retain housing.
3. Increase opportunities for housing and support service agencies to collaborate
4. Support and advocacy for increased housing and shelter options for people across the county.
 
Once again, I doubt many Cobourgers know of this.
Has Mayor Henderson reported on this to Cobourg Council?
 
Nice words. Are there any practical current results from this plan?
 
I strongly suggest that Council:
– approve staff option 1, and
– reject Clr Beatty’s motion.

Last edited 5 months ago by Bryan
ben
Reply to  Bryan
4 July 2022 3:39 pm

Bryan apart from the suggestions I have made in a previous post I agree with you that if the majority on Council want to take the copout that this issue is a County problem, despite the fact that the homeless are here and SOMEBODY has to deal with it, then the only thing that a responsible Cobourg Council can do is to lay the problem at the County level. Tell them that whatever money they have been spending has had little effect on the ground.

Priority A: Homelessness and Affordable Housing.
This priority has put into place four (4) goals:
1. Align leadership from the Collaborative with current Housing and Homelessness Plan goals
2. Ensure more support is available to meet the needs of precariously housed people; develop and implement prevention approaches to enable people to retain housing.
3. Increase opportunities for housing and support service agencies to collaborate
4. Support and advocacy for increased housing and shelter options for people across the county.

This consultant speak ( Priority A) has no resonance with reality, and that reality is that there are at least 78 counted homeless in the area.

Never mind the talk let’s see some action. Cobourg Council should be putting the boots to the County and telling them “This is on you!”

Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben
4 July 2022 3:47 pm

Agreed, Ben.

Since we don’t elect anybody at the county level the boots should be applied to our representative on County Council.

Kathleen
Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 July 2022 4:03 pm

Totally agree it is a County issue.
I personally like the idea of Brookside for the Northumberland homeless population. I realise this will cost the County more.
BUT if it was run properly, with a dedicated Committee, armed with volunteers (and I would bet there are many in Northumberland who would volunteer their services) then it would be doable.
Status Quo isn’t an option.
All good plans come with a price and sacrifice. And it could be managed, if managed properly.
My 2 cents.

Ray
Reply to  Kathleen
4 July 2022 5:53 pm

Brookside is owned by the province, so the council nor the county has a say there. Plus it’s very close to 3 schools, so I highly doubt the provincial government will be willing to agree. If the issue is REALLY housing as they say, then brookside should be torn down and housing built. Also, why is it so difficult in this town to allow basement apartments and tiny houses on personal property? All of these things will help with high rents. Surely this is a better solution than encampments.

ben
Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 July 2022 7:59 pm

It turns out that he is the Chair of the “Social Services Committee” the question is what has this committee done for the homeless?

Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben
4 July 2022 8:25 pm

Agreed, Ben. With our Mayor as the chair of the county Social Services Committee it isn’t surprising that nothing has been accomplished.

Kathleen
Reply to  Bryan
4 July 2022 3:52 pm

Re: Henderson: ‘Leadership Vacuum’. On point.
Somebody, puleeease run against this guy.

Old Sailor
4 July 2022 10:04 am

Is Council researching what other towns and cities are doing with their homeless issues? Or will Cobourg be swayed by one or two loud local activist voices at the Council meeting? This is more than a 2022 summer issue. Kitchener for example is is the Globe news today on this topic.

Rachel
Reply to  Old Sailor
4 July 2022 11:25 am

I agree, it seems as though council has an agenda here. They have an obligation to let their constituents know about this meeting, which they have not. First of all, this is a county responsibility, not a council responsibility. By council taking on a responsibility that isn’t theirs, they are making this a Cobourg problem and therefore other towns in Northumberland have been able to avoid doing their fair share. Each town within Northumberland should be helping their own, but we are encouraging not only everyone from Northumberland to come here to Cobourg, but also from Peterborough and Oshawa. Also, council seems to think housing is the issue here (I believe there’s more to it than that), but if council TRULY believes housing is the issue, why is it impossible to build basement apartments in this town? Why are people unable to build tiny houses in their backyards and rent them out? There are better ways to deal with this than building homeless encampments at Victoria Park. It seems the solution council has put forward is only going to cause a bigger problem.

Tucker
4 July 2022 9:55 am

I’d like to know how old these “homeless” people are. The statement that they are “Cobourg’s homeless”, leads me to believe that “mommy and daddy” are also residents of Cobourg. Have “family” take them in. What is the true reason they are “homeless”???

Bill Thompson
Reply to  Tucker
4 July 2022 1:09 pm

Is there any knowledge of the prior home location(s) of the increasing numbers of homeless here to determine where they are from ?
I would think that Transition House management would be a good source of assistance in determining that point.
I assume they have to provide certain details to be enabled to stay there.

Concerned
Reply to  Bill Thompson
4 July 2022 3:58 pm

That’s part of the problem many of them are refusing assistance from Transition House. I have made my feeling known to council hopefully many others have as well.

David
4 July 2022 8:44 am

I’d be interested in hearing from the 2 large and influential service groups, Rotary and the Lions, about their commitment to addressing this issue. Perhaps funds generated through the Waterfront festival and Ribfest should stay in the local economy. The town surely has leverage to make this happen?

Sandpiper
Reply to  David
4 July 2022 9:40 am

Better yet why aren’t any of these groups / Organizations and Councilor Beaty
Canvasing our Govt. at what ever level for proper and real life , real time Cost of living increases
you know that 8.2 % this year I don’t believe there have been any upward adjustments to OAS, CPP, ODSP , or any other social support in the last 15 yrs or so. This would cove all the citizens
including the aged . There needs to be some real catch up work done here .
\when I see the Govt proudly handing out ODSP support cheques for $1000. per month more or less and you can’t even rent a bed sitting room for that amount in Southern Ont. It makes me sick to think that Canada / Ont. is great .
Until this happens there will never be any affordable housing or an end to Homelessness

Waterdrummer
Reply to  Sandpiper
4 July 2022 12:44 pm

You might not believe it, but OAS and CPP are indexed to inflation and increase annually in line with inflation.

ODSP is more problematic but the PC govt has said they are increasing it 5% this year, and it will be increased in line with inflation in the future.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Waterdrummer
4 July 2022 1:27 pm

Obviously its not adequate at its present rate

Lynsay
4 July 2022 8:27 am

This is a very unfortunate situation we all face. It is of utmost importance that ALL relevant local COMMUNITY PARTNERS prioritize to be in attendance at this meeting to shed light on and objectively summarize the work that has been done behind the scenes to help house homeless people in cobourg and what future projects/initiatives are underway. Have these individuals who are homeless exhausted all options; including connecting with relevant community partners? Surley camping at the beach is the last resort and is also not sustainable both for the homeless and the town of cobourg. This is a complex problem that cannot be solved in silos. Transparency and accountability are required on all parties.

Last edited 5 months ago by Lynsay
Rational
4 July 2022 8:17 am

Does anyone know the definition of “in unmaintained areas of Municipal Parks”? I did not see it defined. Would this by-law proposal open up any park in Cobourg for encampments, with unmaintained being subject to the users interpretation.

Reading comments from the Fire and Police departments (pages 17 & 18 of the report) both departments have concerns over safety and additional costs (all un-budgeted) due to impact on departmental operations.

In my opinion, Council once again have not thought this through, and are rushing a temporary fix that will create more problems.

Last edited 5 months ago by Rational
Dylan
3 July 2022 11:33 pm

We should not have homeless Encampments or drug treatment facilities anywhere near areas where school aged children congregate. Is no one going to speak for our most vulnerable?
Every counselor who supports this needs to own it!

Kevin
Reply to  Dylan
4 July 2022 7:11 am

Dylan, I agree with you regarding location not near children. But are the homeless not our most vulnerable? How about the Tannery District as a central location? It was unmaintained the last I saw it. If we are going to allow an encampment we really need to have support services in place to get people into more suitable housing and find jobs. The support needs to continue to help them care for the housing and keep their jobs.

Dylan
Reply to  Kevin
4 July 2022 7:29 am

Call me old fashioned but children will always be our most vulnerable. I will support efforts in spending whatever resources we have to house COBOURG’s homeless… however… with millions of people to the west of us if we are not careful this problem will surely spin out of control. Our homeless budget needs to be split amongst all the towns in Northumberland. We cannot create a large group in such a small town. If there is no room for COBOURG’s homeless I propose an encampment up by the Hospital and the Walmart. That area is surely more suitable.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Dylan
4 July 2022 9:19 am

May be they should provide proof that they are truly Residents of Cobourg
homeless or not to be able to par take of such services and camp sites , Most are collecting some sort of small benefits $ and need I D as such and a postal address or Box
I have actually witnessed Durham region Dropping off 8 or so homeless
at a time along with support packs good for a few days .
We don’t need other Communities Problems comming here . Do We ?

Dylan
Reply to  Sandpiper
4 July 2022 10:06 am

I just want each town to do their part. Our county is allocating what seems like all their resources to the middle of Cobourg and then deciding that that’s where everyone should go. Residents needed to be informed of these big developments. Our town has an obligation to inform the public and our counselors need their positions noted so they can stand behind them.

Rachel Lourens
Reply to  Dylan
4 July 2022 11:02 am

agreed

Last edited 5 months ago by Rachel Lourens
Doug
Reply to  Kevin
4 July 2022 9:15 am

This seems like a reasonable reply. Why so many negative responses? Do we just ignore this problem or ship the homeless to another town?

Dylan
Reply to  Doug
4 July 2022 11:32 am

It could be said that the other towns have shipped off their obligation to help their homeless.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Kevin
4 July 2022 9:25 am

How about the Park behind the Court house on William st lots of room , privacy not like the Victoria park area close to stores , fresh river water , Washrooms at the court house , Police / security are there pretty much every day already . Bus route and Hospital with in walking distance and the County Building and Social Assist. is Right There

Ken Strauss
3 July 2022 10:24 pm

John, thanks for an excellent summary! I hate to complain but the costs that you mentioned are slightly misleading. From a careful reading of the staff report:

  • The $134,000 cost does not include food, showers, storage for personal items or additional resources such as police, fire, or other staff as required. (see page 55 of the staff report)
  • The $102,000 to $150,000 estimated police cost is per month. (see page 50 of the staff report)

If one assumes that the county will be unable to provide proper housing in the immediate future, the total cost of allowing park camping could approach $1,000,000. Whatever the costs, nothing has been budgeted.

MiriamM
Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 July 2022 12:08 am

In the Town staff report is a link to a 2021 County report and it contains research well presented. And, of participants “… 25% indicated that their most recent housing was outside of Northumberland County…” (page 30). The report also mentions movement of people from Durham due in part to shortage of services.

https://www.northumberland.ca/en/business-and-development/resources/Documents/2022-02-08-Northumberland-County-Report-on-2021-Enumeration-Accessible.pdf

Good points on costs, Ken. But I think the costs would be higher.