No Mention of Encampment in the Northumberland County Housing and Homelessness Plan/Report

In City Hall

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Much of the discussion around homelessness at Northumberland County council’s Social Services Committee June meeting was dominated by a councillor who was not even a member of the committee.

Non-members are allowed to sit in on these committees, ask questions and even participate in debate. And Cobourg Mayor Lucas Cleveland took full advantage of this to question the county’s handling of the homeless encampment at the former Brookside Youth Centre.

Cleveland’s first objection is that the encampment was not mentioned in the report before the committee. Associate Director of Housing and Homelessness Rebecca Carman explained that this is an annual report on their provincially mandated 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan for 2023. And although it is due for substantial review next year, this cannot happen direction that the province has indicated is due actually arrives.

“There’s a lot of chatter that our social services are not serving the people in the encampment,” Warden Brian Ostrander – a committee member – added.

“I wonder if you can speak to that, if they are being served, how and where. What are the barriers to our team entering the encampment?”

Homelessness Services Manager Bill Smith said they are being served, but a change has come as safety concerns have developed.

That does not mean county staff no longer enter the encampment, Smith added, referring to a visit just this week by a contingent that included representatives of the county, Northumberland Hills Hospital and its Mental Health Engagement and Response Team. But it is far more likely that a member of the encampment will meet social-services representatives at a safer place off-site.

“I heard our priority is to serve people where they are – now I’m hearing they are not serving people where they are, but expecting our most vulnerable individuals, people who are suffering most through addiction and trauma, to come off-site and make appointments,” Cleveland protested.

“We need to balance the safety and privacy of those being served, as well as our workers,” Northumberland Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer Moore said.

“There are ways we can visit people where they are at in a safe manner, and there are alternatives.”

This is a question that arises at encampments throughout the county, Moore pointed out, not just at Brookside – “places where workers have made a safety play before they meet with individuals inside.”

And if an off-site meeting is advisable, she continued, arrangements are made to meet in an appropriate location where it is safe and comfortable for both parties, the encampment member as well as the staffer.

At any rate, Director of Community and Social Services Lisa Horne added, they regularly serve clients without the necessity of an appointment.

How do these clients get to the off-site locations, Deputy Mayor Olena Hankivsky (also a committee member) wondered.

Smith said they rely heavily on community advocates and taxis – though he described this service as “very sporadic.” And in extreme cases (such as a pending court date), police can transport individuals.

“Brookside is considered unsafe for social-service workers, it’s considered unsafe for fire fighters and our paramedics but, as a government, we are okay putting our most vulnerable there?” Cleveland said.

“I think we know who owns the land,” Carman pointed out, referring to the fact that the province owns that property, and Infrastructure Ontario has not indicated any wish to have the encampment ousted.

“I think it is a much more complicated scenario than what we are talking about here.”

Cramahe Mayor Mandy Martin (the other non-member sitting in) reiterated that the report refers to the county’s entire homeless population – “hundreds if not thousands of situations.

“I agree the encampment is sort of the political mot du jour,” she added.

Her own question concerns the delay in opening the 41-unit shelter at 310 Division St., Cobourg, for which an operating agreement is still being negotiated between the town and Northumberland County. What’s the hold-up, she wondered.

“The real people we are trying to serve, the clients, are caught in a political imbroglio. It doesn’t reflect well on anyone.

“Is this council going to address the overall picture? We are dealing with problems and situations, but slamming each other is not the answer.”

Ostrander said both parties seem motivated to find a way, an assessment he makes after a meeting between them last week.

Cleveland expressed his displeasure with Martin’s remarks.

“No one was slamming anyone,” he retorted.

“I have been asking clear, concise questions, specific questions. I have been doing so in a kind tone. I am not accusing anyone. I am not making accusations. It is inappropriate that fellow councillors are opposing asking appropriate questions,” he insisted.

“When I hear this is being politicized – I want to be very clear. This is not being politicized. We have heard directly from the police chief of Cobourg that the change in service is putting other Cobourg residents at risk. Because of the encampment, other people in Cobourg are now at risk.”

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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