Saturday, July 20, 2024

‘Devastating’: Belleville council issues urgent plea for action on homelessness

Belleville City Hall. – Photo by Hollie Pratt-Campbell/Hometownist

Belleville council thoroughly discussed the pressing issue of homelessness in the community at a recent council meeting, concluding in a motion urging the provincial government to recognize homelessness as a social, economic, and health crisis in Ontario.

On Tuesday, Nov. 14, Mayor Neil Ellis presented the motion to council, stating, “It’s about provincial recognition of homelessness as a crisis.

“The homelessness crisis is taking a devastating toll on families and communities, and undermining a healthy and prosperous Ontario,” Ellis continued, reading the motion. “The homeless crisis is the result of under-investment, and poor policy choices of successive provincial governments, and … requires a range of housing, social services, and health solutions by government.”

The motion was supported and carried by council, being moved by Ward 1 councillor Lisa Anne Chatten and seconded by Ward 2 councillor Kathryn Ann Brown.

Councillors took turns speaking about the homelessness crisis and how it has affected the City of Belleville. All members seemed in agreement that it is a critical issue taking a devastating toll on families and communities.

The discussion highlighted the failures of provincial governments in addressing homelessness and emphasized the pressing need for a comprehensive plan involving housing, social services, and health solutions.

Ward 1 Councillor Tyler Allsopp added that the homelessness crisis cannot be addressed or tackled on a per-community basis; it’s an issue that needs to be rectified across the province so all people and communities can improve simultaneously.

“We need the province to step up and do their job,” Coun. Allsopp said. “It needs to be fixed in every other community across this province … we do not have the resources to do it on our own.

“Even though some of the provincial funding flows into different organizations [and] attempts to address the situation, it is too often too little and always changes depending on what the budget cycle looks like … And when [funding] starts and stops, you will never be able to properly address this problem,” Allsopp continued.

Council members emphasized challenges faced by local municipalities and organizations, adding that these efforts lack the resources, capacity, and jurisdiction to tackle this complex issue fully. The motion calls for urgent action from the provincial government to collaborate with various community health, economic, and Indigenous partners to develop resources and implement a plan to end homelessness.

“Health care and housing are two primary responsibilities of the province,” Ellis reiterated in his statement.

“We can’t manage it on four-year election cycles,” said Ward 2 councillor Paul Carr, following Mayor Ellis’s statement. “People are falling through the cracks.”

Councillors each took a turn voicing their unwavering support for the motion. Many echoed Carr’s statement, expressing frustration over the recurring approach of short-term fixes during election cycles and the inability to create sustained, effective solutions.

Another dominant factor highlighted was the strain this crisis has on emergency services. Councillors cited examples of overdose responses, increased policing, and challenges in providing adequate healthcare support to the homeless population.

“Our EMS Paramedic Services have responded to 90 overdose calls between November 1 to November 7, just the first week of November,” Coun. Allsopp said. “That has a huge amount of strain across the entire system. Police are also responding. Fire is also responding. This is a massive challenge.”

Council also shed light on the inadequacy of available resources, such as warming centres and mental health support, further emphasizing a need for increased funding and institutional solutions. Councillors provided insights into some of the challenges faced by the homeless population, including gaps in institutional support for mental health and addiction.

Coun. Allsopp expressed that if the housing crisis could be addressed and solved, then that strain being taken off the unhoused, off the community, and off the province, could also allow for space and resources to address a multitude of other issues.

“A lot of folks are suffering from mental illness. A lot of people are suffering from addiction. The housing epidemic that we have in this country is unbelievable. People that are my age have no hope of ever getting a home, and if you can’t secure your housing, good luck ever finding a way to retire as well. So this is a problem that seems not just in the homeless but all the way up to our community,” Coun. Allsopp said. “So this is something that really needs to be addressed.”

An urgency for creating solid, institutional solutions to address multifaceted issues contributing to homelessness was stressed throughout the meeting.

Another motion was proposed to hasten the early opening of the warming centre in Belleville. Currently, the warming centre opens for the season on Dec. 15; however, there have already been multiple nights below freezing, and the opening of the warming centre is still a month away.

“It’s cruel,” Ward 1 councillor Sean Kelly said. “There’s no place for 150+ people on the streets in November.”

The motion aims to alleviate some immediate challenges faced by the unhoused as winter approaches. However, previous attempts to advance the start date of such centres were met with resistance, raising concerns about the viability of this approach.

The meeting concluded with council members expressing solidarity in urging the provincial government to take immediate and substantial action to combat homelessness, emphasizing a need for sustained, reliable funding, institutional support, and comprehensive strategies.

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