There shouldn’t be any “side” to the homeless issue.
No “good” guys or “bad” guys, meaning people have different opinions.
Some are worthy of listening too, some, not so much.
But it’s safe to say, at one point or another, we’ve all come across people that if we could do something, we would.
This isn’t a column about those who did something, it’s more about the communications service at Cobourg Police and how they did – nothing.
It was shortly before midnight on January 1, 2024 and my daughter and I were just driving around town – for lack of a better word – bored.
Driving south on George Street, just north of King Street we noticed a woman who was staggering on the sidewalk. A man was also in the area of the woman. It appeared they had a shopping cart of items with them.
Given the temperature hovered around minus three degrees, how the woman looked like she may need attention and since we weren’t going anywhere special, we parked on Third Street.
The woman either had a medical condition, or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol by the way she was staggering.
After about 20-minutes she fell, and then curled up into a ball just off the sidewalk. Her legs were crossed and her head in front of her on the pavement.
The man with her stayed close, but didn’t check on her condition.
After approximately several minutes of the woman still not moving I decided to phone the Cobourg Police non-emergency line which goes to Owen Sound dispatch.
To give a bit of background with Cobourg Police and their 9-1-1 system, last year coming off of Highway 401 we spotted what looked like an impaired driver late at night. The driver continued down William Street, hitting the curb several times. Calling 9-1-1, the dispatcher asked for my name and the make of the vehicle we were following etc. and to keep giving an update of direction of travel.
As the vehicle made a right and then another right onto King Street, we kept the 9-1-1 operator advised. It came to a strange conclusion, but going by memory the dispatcher stated pleasantries and then – hung-up.
Rarely if ever have I called 9-1-1 but my daughter and both looked at each other and wonder if that was how it usually happens?
This was at King Street and Margaret Street. We continued to follow the vehicle just for interest sake since no one was on the phone line any longer. Thankfully, just by luck the Cobourg Police were searching for the vehicle and caught up to us on Westwood Drive. They pulled the vehicle over and arrested and charged the driver with alcohol related offences.
Several months later while out for a walk at night, an elderly woman asked to borrow my phone. She wasn’t from the area and was confused. Again calling 9-1-1 after a short period of time the dispatcher hung up on myself. Police did come and the woman had walked away from a nearby retirement home.
But that was two-for-two with the Owen Sound Dispatch 9-1-1 system just to give a bit of context.
So on tonight’s adventure, instead of calling 9-1-1, we called the non-emergency number.
The police station is less than a block away and maybe the person isn’t having a medical emergency.
The non-emergency operator started off very pleasant and I just asked if they could send a police cruiser just to check on the woman.
The operator said he’d be putting me through to 9-1-1 for paramedics to respond. Knowing that would also tier fire department, I once again advised the operator that police are less that a block away, it might be better and quicker for them if they are available.
The operator would have none of it and once again said he was going to put me through to 9-1-1 for paramedics.
After two previous calls with Owen Sound Dispatch, this third call was almost comical dealing with this operator whose demeanour started to go a bit south.
To give it context, all emergency services are busy. But police carry Narcan and it “seemed” like a slow night. Paramedics can be called anywhere in Northumberland County or beyond, but usually have their area.
When it comes to a certain medical criteria, the fire department is dispatched along with paramedics in what could be considered a life or death emergency.
Calls for Cobourg Fire Department were up a astounding 42% in 2023.
It would be no surprise if calls for police and paramedics are also up.
But to save the possibility of another ambulance coming from out of the area, to save the fire department responding, it would have been much easier for police to attend – as they also carry Narcan.
If other resources are needed – they can be called at that point.
Regarding Owen Sound dispatch – frankly, unless there are some drastic changes – I give up.
Hung up two times for an impaired driver and missing elderly woman and the third time to be given an ultimatum just wasn’t worth the effort.
To end the story, after dealing with the operator who did nothing, we drove up to the two people. The man was still walking around and the woman was sitting with her legged crossed and her head on the pavement.
When the woman was awakened, she was groggy, but managed to get to her feet.
Asking them first if they were ok, then asking why don’t they go to The Warming Hub at St. Peter’s Church just two blocks away, the man said he wasn’t sure if the woman was allowed there.
Shortly after the man gathered their belongings in a shopping cart as the woman balanced herself against the building while trying to walk south on George Street.
They said they going to find a bank vestibule for warmth and were last seen going into the CIBC.
So starting 2024, there were many issues arising from the incident.
The good news – the man who was with the woman keeping an eye on her condition.
But with temperatures below zero, why aren’t people using The Warming Hub? Will the “new” Transition House be the same?
And what if they don’t use it? If people don’t come to a safe, warm place on their own free will when it is freezing out – what more can society do.
As far as Owen Sound Dispatch – it speaks for itself the type of service Cobourg gets.