Video – Mixed Reactions to County Purchase of Former Retirement Residence

In City Hall, Editor Choice, Local

Mixed emotions raised at County Council concerning former retirement residence purchase in Cobourg.

A number of delegations came forward to voice both their approval and disapproval after it was announced that Northumberland County purchased a former retirement located at 310 Division Street in Cobourg.

During County Council a review of the 2024-2026 budget was raised, then Council went into closed session to review the final details of the purchase of the property.

When council resumed County staff delivered a presentation on plans and next steps for the property along with a six delegations raised concerns with councils decision, while other groups praised the decision.

In their presentation to County Council staff stated:

Northumberland County provided 1,093 shelter/housing benefits (homeless or at risk

Northumberland County stated there were 133 emergency shelter users and 119 warming room users

Northumberland County added two new street outreach positions for the community

Northumberland County invested $2.3 million in response to homelessness of which $1.7 in emergency shelter support.

44 households had evictions from community housing providers prevented in 2022

In 2023
54 households experiencing or at immediate risk of homelessness supported to date through Housing Stability Program

15 households housed off BNL

47 households were housed from the community housing waitlist

Northumberland Count is
investing $23 million in local housing capital investments in partnership with all levels of government

Northumberland County is providing

$10 million in annual housing support

251 new affordable united in the pipeline

28% of the Affordable Housing Strategy target

All new growth in the pipline represents a
30% growth in our current housing stock

Northumberland County Housing Corporation

own’s or manages 373 affordable housing units

Northumberland County added
48 new affordable housing units in 2023

Northumberland County are building
45 new housing united

Northumberland County are pursuing
5 new properties for growth

Current Shelter System
Transition House – 18 shelter beds (currently temp. increase to 22) – 4 rooms with bunk beds (3 male/1 female)
($606,000 annual investment in operations)

Motel overflow – 7 beds (currently temp. increase to 15 beds)
($281,000 annual investment in hotel rental plus damages)

Warming Hub – St. Peter’s Church – 20 person occupancy

October 16 – April 30 8 pm to 8 am limited service

($466,958 annual investment – rent, security, operations)

Family Diversion Program – supporting families experiencing homelessness unable to access shelter services

($192,000 annual investment – staffing and operations (motel rentals)

2023 Homelessness System Review

Provided 44 short, medium and long-term recommendations to improve sheltering system in areas including:

emergency shelter

Homelessness Prevention Services

Street Outreach

Adaptive Case management (Re-Housing Supports)

Housing First/Intensive Case management/Supportive Housing

Access to Affordable Housing

Coordinated Access System

Emergency Shelter Recommendations
Provided 12 emergency shelter specific recommendations with 6 identified key recommendations:
1) reduce barriers to access emergeny shelter services
2) fund a dedicated staff person to support diversion of singles
3) provide funding to support adequate staffing levels and average salaries to deliver shelter service.
4) reduce shelter demand by increasing supportive housing and/or Housing First Intensive Case management spaces along with rental assistance for people experiencing chronic homelessness with high acuity.
5) look to transition spaces used for emergency shelter to more appropriate space for approximately 25 beds and daytime supports
6) monitor Transition House’s progress in improving its capacity.

A Renewed Sheltering System
· there is a need to move toward a more expanded and purpose-built sheltering system.
(Sheltering System Review identified a need for at least 25 shelter beds to be available in Northumberland (+ transitional and supportive housing)
· Facility that allows client identified barriers to be addressed: pets, couples, accessibility, etc
· more efficient and effective value-for-money system
· increased Transitional and Supportive Housing Opportunities
· Housing Focussed, Street Outreach, Inclusive and Accessible

310 Division Street
· Former Cobourg Retirement Residence
· Currently vacant property since summer 2023
· 47 self-contained units with bathrooms, central industrial kitchen and common space on ground floor.

Vision for 301 Division
· A modernized Emergency Shelter Hub (operated by Transition House)
· Key elements of the space may include:
· emergency sheltering up to 35 beds
· Transitional Housing (short-term rental units for folks ready for permanent housing)
· Service Hub (aspirational vision of a 24/7 hub)

The Investment
· Northumberland County is purchasing 310 Division Street for $2,300,000 (plus closing costs)
(Funded through a draw from Housing and Homelessness Reserves)
· Cost to be repaid by Transition House through a Vendor Takeback Mortgage
· property sale to close on December 8, 2023
· Entering into Memorandum of Understanding with Transition House
· Negotiating Vendor Takeback Mortgage
· Community Engagement
· Site readiness (minor repairs, fire safety plans, furniture and fixtures)
· Operating Requirements
· Upcoming Community engagement sessions
(Residents invited to share their feedback, ask questions and provide input that will help positively shape the integration of this new hub within the broader community. Details on date, time and location will be shared as they become available)

Two of the speakers sent their notes to Today’s Northumberland.
Dr. Hillary Allen & Mr. Jeff Crowley

Letter To The Northumberland County Council Regarding The Recent Purchase Of

310 Division Street For Use As Low Barrier Emergency Shelter
We are here today in a unique position possessing several different perspectives related to the proposed use of 310 Division Street as Northumberland’s Emergency Low Barrier Shelter. For 17-years we have lived and worked within 100 metres of both the current and proposed new site.

We are business owners and employers of 18 healthcare professionals, 95% of which are taxpayers in Northumberland County.

We are property owners having lovingly restored 304 Division St. sitting directly south to 310 Division, and more recently 301 Division St., which sits directly across the street, for the purpose of housing our business (Cobourg Orthopaedic & Sports Injury Clinic – COSIC), as well as, an effort to positively affect downtown Cobourg.

We were downtown residents for 6-years. We understand the unique landscape of downtown living.

We are involved community supporters – supporting numerous organizations focusing on enhancing life in Cobourg and within the Northumberland County.

Lastly, we are regulated Healthcare Professionals by trade. We have empathy, compassion and a true understanding of the complexities surrounding individuals who are homeless, and we support helping people in need. We understand the dynamics of mental health issues, opioid use and addiction, as well as the science behind how this has influenced every community across our country.

It is also why we have remained largely quiet up until now. We have genuinely tried to bring positivity and optimism about the realities of how our downtown has changed while at work interacting with hundreds of Northumberland residents as they witness our concerns at our clinic on a weekly basis.

Like many people here today, we are proud to call Northumberland County home, but are genuinely concerned about the state of chaos that has become common place in our neighbourhood and extending into downtown Cobourg over the last 4-years, as well as the lack of meaningful progress to improve these issues. Transition House was already in place in its current location when we purchased 304 Division St and moved to Cobourg, and for 13-years we happily shared a fence line and neighbourhood with almost no issues. Over the last 4-years, Transition House changed their model of care, becoming a low barrier emergency shelter, which immediately negatively impacted our neighbourhood and downtown Cobourg.

Despite efforts from town and county council, law enforcement, transition house, social services, and community support – on the ground level, day-to-day very little has changed to improve the conditions of chaos in our neighbourhood and provide true help for the folks with high needs.

Unfortunately, vandalism, theft, explicit drug use, trespassing, intimidation, dumping garbage, public urination and defecation, as well as, verbal and physical assaults continue to be daily occurrences on our properties and at our businesses – more so than in any other neighbourhood in Cobourg, and likely in all of Northumberland County.

Northumberland News reported on September 6, 2023, that these are the exact behaviours that Northumberland County Council and the Northumberland Paramedics Chief condemned as being unacceptable at their location at 600 William St., when members of the encampment settled for a couple of weeks.

As a result, the county hired a security firm, to provide on-site security 24/7 to ensure safety for employees, and so operations weren’t negatively impacted for the public.

The report went on to site continued aggressiveness toward county staff and security, people peering into the workplace, people startling staff during night hours, vehicles being targeted for theft, employees feeling unsafe to report to work, employees feeling unsafe walking to their vehicles, employees being flagged down for food, money, hydro and the use of washrooms as the reasons for the encampment being deemed unsustainable at 600 William St. and ultimately disbanded. Employees of the county were emotionally spent after two weeks. This has been the reality for the residents and businesses in the area of Division and Chapel and downtown Cobourg daily for the last 4-years.

To be clear, it’s not fair to blame residents of Transition House for all the disorderly behaviour in our neighbourhood and downtown Cobourg, but it attracts associates that engage in this behaviour. Research supports this relationship, as it has become a hub for disorderly conduct on surrounding properties during the day.

A couple of years ago, during COVID when Transition House temporarily relocated to CCI high school for the summer, we were witness to an unintended social study. For 2-months there was virtually no disorderly behaviour in our neighbourhood which is supported by police data. It was dramatically improved, and our experience is consistent with what Canadian research has determined with low barrier shelters. The research suggests the presence of emergency shelters cause property crimes to increase 56% within 100 meters of the shelter for surrounding properties.

This effect progressively decreases as you get further away from the shelter.

Relocating Northumberland’s Emergency Shelter at 310 Division St. without question imposes significant negative consequences for the residential and commercial neighbours, which extend into the entire downtown. These consequences negatively influence our shops, restaurants, retailers, professionals, bankers, tourism, service providers – essentially everyone. All of this to provide beds for 22 people in the current transition house, that have consistently had a 50% vacancy in recent months. We are not trying to undermine the importance of the service that Transition House provides the residents of Northumberland in need, rather feel that further community consultation is necessary to determine if this is the best use of funding and if this is this the best location to deliver these services considering the consequences.

To circle back, we are here not to condemn the efforts of people in our community to improve the chaos in our neighbourhood or downtown, nor the usefulness of such shelters, but to explain that there is a clear pattern of failed efforts of low barrier shelters located in downtown Cobourg in the past. We have legitimate concerns about the implementation and execution of a larger emergency shelter when there are already consistent significant vacancies in the existing one. We also, quite frankly, question the appropriateness of the entire proposed use of this new site at 310 Division St.

Our Concerns
Safety – for our employees, families, and customers. On a daily basis we are on heightened alert, walking patients to their cars, have the police on speed dial and are forced to engage regularly in intense negative interactions with highly unpredictable, high needs members of the community when our calm, respectful requests are denied. Fire and police data demonstrate these claims. This experience is consistent with business owners and residents in the area.

Process – Putting a new emergency shelter in a neighbourhood is a significant issue for all stakeholders. The lack of community engagement in the conceptual phase of this project on the surface seems like complete disregard for the impact on surrounding businesses and residents, let alone the insight that we could offer to implement the new one and the missed opportunity to build valuable community relationships. Who advised the county to place the shelter at this specific location? Were consultants involved in choosing the location? Did you consult other communities doing the same thing to see their success with similar projects? Residents of the neighbourhood and Cobourg at large certainly were not asked for input prior to the purchase of this site. Does bringing services to high needs individuals in a less residential and commercial setting make more sense for this project? Is there a better solution?

Parking – Is there enough? Are there different regulations for shelters than regular institutionally zoned properties? The retirement home occupants who previously occupied the site didn’t have cars, and the staff and service providers didn’t have enough parking. The town had strict demands on our parking requirements during our clinic renovation process. Do these regulations apply to this project?

State of the building – What will the general appearance of the building look like? Shopping carts, abandoned bicycles, vast amounts of garbage, etc. are left outside Transition House and neighbouring properties on a daily basis, not to mention ongoing disorderly behaviour.

Capacity – What is the perceived maximum number of residents? How many employees are necessary to support this larger building and increase in residents appropriately? Is there ongoing funding committed to support this?

Devalued Property Values – Being beside a super-sized emergency shelter is not the first thing most people have on their list when shopping for real estate. This WILL devalue the properties surrounding the shelter and in the downtown, also discouraging growth of commerce and tourism opportunities. The current Transition House has already done this to our neighborhood. Is this fair to put such a huge financial burden on a small group of individuals who are contributing to the community and rely on retained value for their retirement? There are no pensions in the self-employed world. Is the County prepared to compensate these property owners as we have seen in other communities? These concerns need to be addressed.

Cost to the tax payer – What is the cost of the building and estimated renovation costs? Is this the best use of funds for this issue or a knee jerk reaction to the homeless crisis?

We are not suggesting that people who are homeless don’t deserve safe housing, compassion and consideration. The concern is the location and necessity of a new emergency shelter. We are in complete support of the County using this property for suitable housing. This building is suitable for many types of housing for vulnerable people in our community. The current Transition House regularly runs at half capacity, and is proven to not be the solution to the encampment, given these vacancies. If you have other future plans for this space, as you have alluded to in your press release, we ask that you consult the stakeholders and hold off on using this building, until you can provide what is actually needed in our community.

We are asking today that although Northumberland County moved quickly to purchase this building, that you reconsider the current plan and use. Consider making 310 Division Street low income housing for seniors, a solution for unhoused singles, or families and the working poor with strict oversight from the County.

Four years ago Transition House changed to a low barrier shelter, and the community management did not change. The neighbourhood was left on its own to take care of the effects of the policy change and it has been a disaster. We are asking that as you make yet another change, your community management strategy matches the needs. And if you cannot commit to making these changes the project should not move forward.

What are the alternative solutions to this issue? We know that you are resistant to re-visiting the re-purposing of the Golden Plough Lodge because of decisions made 13-years ago, predating the opioid crisis, but the reality is that it is currently in full working order, housing 151 of our seniors. It is close to the hospital, mental health services, the County housing and social services, as well as, every other service 310 Division allows that you listed in your press release. It is not directly a part of a densely populated residential or commercial area and does not have direct neighbours that would be affected, nor the influence on property values. Keep Transition House in its’ form with improved delivery of emergency spaces, and wait until the Plough is available.

If the Plough is not feasible, consider the property as the future home for such a facility once demolished or be patient in selecting a better suited property, considering the emergency shelter vacancies.

Perhaps it makes more sense to divide the shelter spaces across the County in a more equitable manor. This would allow the financial consequences to be spread equitably among the individual municipalities.

Let‘s be clear, we represent the majority of Chapel and Division Street residents, downtown business owners and Cobourg residents at large. We implore you to reconsider the appropriateness of 310 Division Street as low barrier emergency shelter. We ask that you commit today to halting all progress of developing this site until you gain a more comprehensive perspective of the vast concerns of Cobourg residents related to this project .

This decision will dramatically shape the quality of life for all community members in Northumberland County for years to come. We ask you to be thoughtful about the next steps. We are asking that you take the neighbouring homes and businesses seriously into account, and offer ongoing meaningful engagement. We expect to hear from you on how we can move forward together as partners in a solution.

The County purchased at $2.3 million dollar building, without knowing full operating costs, in a period of 4 weeks from start to close, when emergency shelter capacity is at 50%, without the consultation of the taxpayers and stakeholders. We encourage Northumberland citizens who share our concerns to contact the County and the Town of Cobourg to discuss this project.
Thank-you for your consideration,

Presenter Chloe Craig
Good afternoon members of council, County Staff, members of the public and those attending in person and virtually.

My name is Chloe Craig, and my mother Jill Edwards was planning to attend with me but is unfortunately unwell. Our family purchased next door to 310 Division St about 40 years ago in 1984 and have been tenants, merchants, and landlords all that time; before the current 310 Division St building was even built and before Transition House started in 1999.

I have spent my entire life in and around our property as my mother ran a business out of one of the spaces for the first 16 years of my life and I have lived in one of the spaces for almost the last 20 years. Our tenants range from Seniors to 3 children under the age of 4, as well as many having pets. We are a unique property in that we have 8 affordable units fully occupied and fortunate to have kept a quiet green space at the core of the property for our own personal use for the residents who live in our buildings. This space will not become a public area, neither will our parking lot.

The 310 Division St building we are discussing was built lot line to lot line with inadequate parking and free space now you want to add to its inadequacy of no outdoor space for the proposed new tenants that potentially have no daytime programming to keep them busy.

Let me be clear, we are not against Transition House and the concept of helping others, we believe that everyone deserves a place to call home and have a roof over their head and to feel safe. We are here today to show that we want to be a part of the conversation and we want to be heard and respected as part of the community.

Transition House has been around the corner from us since they opened so we are not unfamiliar with the organization and services, but we have had experiences over the years that have us concerned with what the move will look like and how it will impact our family and the tenants that live in our buildings. While the building has been located at 10 Chapel St we have not been directly observed by the residents and staff however the move to 310 Division St will have the occupants able to directly see who lives in our buildings and what belongings we own and store in our buildings.

We saw the announcement this week of the new executive Director for Transition House starting December 11th and we believe their experience will be a great asset for the next steps. I have read through the Transition House website, and I am hoping that we as a community and the staff of Transition House can work towards staying true to the objectives, guiding principles, and strong partnerships of the organization. As well as building a positive community impact and image. With everything happening in our town and around the world there is a negative stigma and connotation.

We have had individuals use our property as a space to sleep, as a space to hide their belongings, as a space to use substances. We have found discarded substance paraphernalia, garbage, weapons, and personal belongings. We have been accosted by individuals in a mental health crisis or under the influences of substances. My mother has spent years creating a beautiful garden along the side of our building; however, in recent years it has been full of garbage, people’s clothing, flowers pulled out or cut off and now she is going to remove it all so that she doesn’t have to keep pulling out garbage or peoples belongings.

We have been woken up in the middle of the night to fights in the middle of the road, to individuals being injured by vehicles. We have had individuals that bang on our building or that yell and scream at the top of their lungs. We have had individuals break into our vehicles and our buildings and remove our property; we are not saying the residents that move into 310 Division St have been or will be individuals that we have had interactions with, but we are concerned that the relocation of Transition House to 310, and the vision to expand the number of accommodation spaces and increase service delivery will increase the number of instances and interactions impacting our safety and security and our quality life.

We have heard of the fights and violence that have happened in and around the current location, the staff shortages and turnover. We have seen the groups of people that are hanging out in and around the building throughout the day and the unsafe, hazardous refuse and garbage that accumulates.

We are deeply concerned over the adequacy of time available to properly plan and develop security standards and consequence codes for residents – shaped by best practices and most importantly local community engagement – to ensure both future resident and the near-site community can be assured of their safety and security.

I have been told by a few people since the news of the change of 310 Division St property that if we have an issue with someone or something happening on our property to call the police. What is Transition Houses role or stance when it comes to the care and responsibility for the safe and proper care of not just their clients but that of their community in which they operate? What is their due diligence based on operational standards and role of staff in managing their operations to limit or prevent impacts to near-sight residents? We are concerned that police will become frustrated and complacent to our calls for help and reduce their efforts and presence to ensure the well-being and safety for all residents. Will their response time be enough to prevent destruction of near-by properties or risk of injury to community residents. Will the police add more CCTV cameras to the area? Will Transition House role and responsibility be to not just residents but the community in which they operate?

Will Transition House extend the same provision they provide for their own location to surrounding property owners with the expected expansion of resident services to 24/7? Will their own security measures be extended to the broader community around 310 Division of which their tenants actively roam and occupy?

If our belongings or property is damaged or removed who will be held accountable for the loss and disruption – is this the sole responsibility of property owners to work with their insurance agents and bare the increase in premiums? Will the municipal governments cover the costs or replace and fix the damage? We need protective measures put in place and sound standards to support operations to ensure our space will be safe, we will be protected and will be able to have a sense of safety and belonging in our community.

Will community partners be able to add more scheduled programing to the community if Transition House doesn’t have the day programing set up?

What happens when vulnerable children need to walk to school at 8am when you are telling residents they need to leave the building, how will you make sure they are safe and feel comfortable?

Staff issues and high turnover have been a chronic problem with existing services provided at Transition House current location and level of operation. With the expected expansion of both levels of service and clients to mange this will only compound the problem. How will this risk be mitigated with the move to 310 Division?

We feel privileged to call Cobourg our home and our small area in town beside 310 Division our community. Our small close-knit neighbourhood of caring and compassionate homeowners and businesses have built a strong supportive community. This potential burden of loss of safety and security and efforts to keep our community whole can not be carried by us alone. We will not be able to succeed on our own any longer. We will need support.

What assurances, support and commitments will the operators of the expanded 310 Division Street operation provide to near-site neighbours to ensure that they have a place where they feel safe and secure as well and a place to call home for both young and old?

My mother would like to know if you are going to be the improvement in our community instead of a blight like the current facility is. Are you willing to step it up and be a positive addition to the neighborhood.

Thank you for your time and attention and I look forward to being apart of more discussions as the project moves forward as one of the key stakeholders in the closest proximity to 310 Division St!

After the meeting Warden Mandy Martin because the entire process has happened so quickly there is a lot to absorb.

“I would say there is no one who is vehemently opposed. Everybody wants to do the right thing, wants to find a way, wants to find a solution.”

Overall Martin said she thought the meeting went “very well.”

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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