Editorial – Prohibiting Police From The Warming Centre at St. Andrew’s Church Is Wrong

In Editorial

Editorial – What a difference a week makes.

Last Saturday, a snow storm hit the area causing white out conditions in some areas.

Concerns were raised by Missy McLean an advocate for the homeless and she contacted a number of people with the Town of Cobourg including Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty.

Through combined efforts, a number of people were housed on both Saturday and Sunday nights at the bus shelter on Albert Street, but on Monday afternoon, approximately 10 people were evicted along with their belongings.

The Town stated the shelter was never meant to be on a permanent basis.

Concerns were once again raised where the people could be housed given the winter weather and that the warming room set up by Northumberland County doesn’t open until December 5 at St. Peter’s Church on College Street.

So advocates once again got together and by Monday night, St. Andrew’s Church in Cobourg had opened its doors for shelter for the homeless.

Once again, advocates had gone to the town to see what could and couldn’t be done in the facility.

It was agreed that volunteers would stay overnight.

McLean said an overwhelming support came from the community in terms of food, clothing and blankets.

Even mattresses were donated.

But as Reverend Neil Ellis pointed out, they weren’t allowed by the town as the church is classified by the Ontario Building Code as an Assembly Occupancy building only. So no furnishings for sleep were allowed.

Rev. Ellis said it was “very frustrating” as the church was attempting to provide a warm, clean and comfortable space for people who wanted out of the cold, but they would abide by what the town had said.

There are also a number of concerns with the facility at St. Andrew’s Church.

Today’s Northumberland doesn’t agree the way people were evicted from the bus shelter on Monday. We totally understand that it isn’t a place for even temporary housing, but in a pinch it worked and everyone should be grateful for the community coming together.

But where was Northumberland County since the start of this?

Saturday we’ll give them a pass because maybe the snow storm came as a surprise. But Sunday was definitely the time to come forward – but they were no where to be found.

And on into Monday, again, all was quiet from the County.

It’s been said many times before, the cold weather doesn’t necessarily start on December 5.

What happened last Saturday was a perfect example.

Reaching out to Northumberland County last week, they said the direct the majority of levy (property tax) funding for the homelessness system to operation of the emergency shelter system.

Approximately $250,000 in levy dollars is invested annually in provisions of shelter spaces through Transition House and overflow motels, including infrastructure/operational costs, staffing and supplies.

This part may come as a shock.

For 2022, $50,000 of remaining levy funding, along with $194,500 in provincial funding, was reserved to sustain warming room services for four months – December through March – as an additional winter relief measure.

So nearly $250,000 is going strictly towards the warming room for four months at St. Peter’s Church in Cobourg.

For taxpayers that works out to approximately $2,000 a day for the four months.

If there were 10 people using the space at St. Peter’s Church when it opens, that works out to approximately $200 a day.

But lets get back to St. Andrew’s Church. As stated from the beginning, there aren’t many people who wouldn’t help someone else in trouble.

And that happened last week with the bus terminal.

But police, specifically Cobourg Police aren’t the enemy and should in no way be treated as such.

Today’s Northumberland believe that the treatment by those operating the facility at St. Andrew’s went to far when they kicked out a member of the police service on the first evening it opened up.

The officer was just checking on the facility doing nightly rounds in town. There was no ill intention.

In fact, police often check in frequently with agencies in Cobourg that house vulnerable people and are welcomed.

Rev. Ellis told Today’s Northumberland, the officer was “turned away by the volunteer on duty.”

Which is the polite way of saying he was kicked out of the church.

There should be respect for the church, but there should also be respect for police who keep society as safe as possible each and every minute of the day.

Rev. Ellis said, “St. Andrew’s has always had a positive relationship with the Cobourg Police Services.”

Adding, “generally speaking members of the Cobourg Police Services are welcome at St. Andrew’s.”

There is a training video that volunteers must watch that is over an hour long dealing with what people may encounter and what to do in an emergency.

Today’s Northumberland asked McLean if we could view the video for transparency but were denied access.

Today’s Northumberland did manage to view a copy of the video.

On the video McLean said that if volunteers or people at the shelter call police, “then they can come in.”

“I would try and keep them in them in the foyer or hallway as much as possible to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the folks.”

McLean also advised volunteers that if police are called, to advise all people using the shelter “so they can get the fuck out, they can stay in the big room, while police officers stay in the foyer.”

McLean said it’s about giving people using the warming shelter the information and giving them their choice if they want to stay or go.

McLean said in the training video, if police arrive unannounced, “St. Andrews church is a private premises . We are upholding the privacy and confidentiality of the folks who are inside. So the message to the police is, “thanks so much for stopping by. For privacy reasons I can’t have you coming into the space.”

“That may be challenging for folks to deliver that message, but I just want to really empower everybody in the event police arrive for some reason and they weren’t called, then that is our priority to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the folks who are inside.”

Another person can be heard in the video, “you don’t have to let them in – but they aren’t the enemy.”

Adding, “if you disrespect them, they aren’t going to show up when you need them.”

Even organizers have said in the training video that volunteers must watch that people using the warming shelter are in “different stages of trauma” and can be “aggressive, violent” and “destructive.”

Teenagers, 17-years-old and above are allowed to be volunteers with their parents permission for their high school hours.

Volunteers also do not specifically have CPR training.

At the beginning of this column, Today’s Northumberland stated that we believe the eviction of the people could have been handled better by all agencies.

We also believe Northumberland County needs to do more. To be more accountable then they are.

More needs to be done for those that want the help.

But we also strongly believe, (using an analogy), that if people in need of help don’t like the colour of a room, they shouldn’t demand the colour be changed to suit their needs. Be thankful – be grateful for the help. Which most are.

And lastly – not welcoming the police into your home, which in this case is the church is disrespectful anyway you try and colour it.

It’s wrong, it’s shameful and it may backfire on those who are accepting the help from the community who may also feel the same.

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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