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 *).
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
- 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 (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.
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.