Northumberland County Council Hears Nine Recommendations from the Community for 310 Division

In City Hall, Local

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The recent community-engagement exercise on the prospective move of Cobourg’s Transition House to much larger facilities at 310 Division St. has resulted in nine recommendations for Northumberland County to consider as negotiations continue toward an agreement on the operation of the new facility.

The former Cobourg Retirement Residence, which the county purchased in November, has 47 self-contained units, approximately 35 of which are planned to be used for emergency shelter spaces – plus space for a warming-or-cooling centre and community partners to offer supports on-site. Over the long term, services will evolve to include transitional-housing accommodation to pave the way to more permanent housing.

The county announced plans on Dec. 4 for a 12-week period of community consultations that would help shape the facility’s eventual operations, county council heard at its meeting this week.

Director of Information Technology and Communications Kate Campbell described it as an opportunity for members of the community to share questions and concerns, and help shape and integrate these services within the neighbourhood and the broader community.

Target audiences for this engagement included actual users of the county’s homelessness service, as well as service-provider partners and members of the general public. Opportunities included targeted interviews as well as public information sessions, and Campbell provided the conservative estimate that up to 40,000 individuals were contacted with the invitation to participate through a variety of means, from postcard mail-outs and news coverage to on-line approaches.

After consultations concluded Feb. 23, organizers identified concerns expressed in four areas.

Support and opportunities for improved services – They found a solid degree of optimism and support for improved shelter and housing services that offer more dignity for those in need. One thought that was expressed regularly was the improvement of offering personal space through the individual rooms, “and how helpful it would be to life stabilization and recovery,” Campbell added.

Community safety and impact – There were a lot of expressions of concern about the perceived connection between homelessness and such issues as loitering, littering and trespassing in the vicinity of the shelter.

Operations and management – There were questions about such nuts-and-bolts aspects as funding, staffing and oversight models.

Community involvement – They wanted more sharing of information and had questions about volunteering opportunities. And most importantly under this heading, Campbell said, was their wish for a collaborative problem-solving mechanism like a Community Liaison Committee.

In the end, the exercise yielded nine recommendations.

Modernized services – While it will be an improvement to have wrap-around services accessible right at the same facility as the ground-floor drop-in centre and warming/cooling hub, Campbell said, service providers are urged to stay abreast of best practices.

Enhanced community services – The principals in this initiative are urged to advocate to other levels of government for the expansion of mental-health and addiction services, for example, and devise solutions for those for whom emergency shelter is not suitable.

Transitional and affordable housing – While these plans do exist, they should be expedited to ease some pressure from the system. Campbell called transitional housing “an essential step to provide people with the progressive supports they need on their journey to stabilization.”

Community safety and well-being – Implement measures to address safety concerns in the vicinity of 310 Division St. with such features as enhanced lighting, fencing and security cameras.

Campbell noted that this work is now underway, adding that the possibility of engaging professional security services will be explored. There might also be support for neighbourhood clean-up initiatives, “an opportunity to build community relationships and contribute to quality of life in the neighbourhood.”

Operational management – Assess staff ratios against best practices, and ensure that training plans align with the evolving needs of the clients.

Community engagement – Establish the Community Liaison Committee “to foster a collaborative approach to supporting clients and resolving community concerns. Transition House is very supportive of this approach,” Campbell said, adding that this will be built into the eventual operational agreement.

Increased awareness and education – Develop a consistent communications strategy to raise awareness and foster an understanding of the challenges faced by those living unhoused. Transition House has begun this initiative by sharing stories of various clients – and, Campbell mentioned, intends to provide volunteer opportunities for members of the community.

Address service user needs – Identify such gaps as the need for improved legal services and better access to primary care. With the ability to provide supports on-site, this will allow for the kind of engagement that can work toward better outcomes.

Legal agreement and commitment – This concern was raised many times, with the need expressed for a legally binding agreement to clarify rules and responsibilities for the successful operation of 310 Division St.

The motion county council passed directs staff to address identified recommendations in agreements and plans for shelter services at 310 Division “in line with budget and operational parameters, to support successful integration of the shelter within the neighbourhood and the broader community.”

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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