A plan is in the works to make Oshawa’s downtown core more “welcoming.”
The “Welcoming Streets” initiative gained support from the city’s development services committee and will come before council on Sept. 23.
The program is a collaborative effort between the city, the Downtown Oshawa BIA, and CAREA Community Health Centre.
“Issues around perceptions of public safety and the unsheltered around downtown have been discussed around the BIA table… over the last 18 months, and it’s just become more serious as we’ve gone on,” explains Kyle Benham, Oshawa’s director of economic development.
The program is inspired by a similar partnership in the City of Guelph.
The Guelph Welcoming Streets Initiative involves the city, the County of Wellington, the local BIA and community health centre, and police department.
It includes an outreach worker who is responsible for improving relationships between homeless individuals and business owners.
Benham says it has been highly successful, and other partners have come on board.
The proposal has the city beginning a six-month pilot project between Oct. 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, with a staff analysis at the end.
The city will contribute $50,000 through the Oshawa Unsheltered Residents (O.U.R.) program.The BIA and CAREA will also provide funding to hire an outreach worker, de-escalation training for BIA members, and communication materials.
Ward 4 city and regional councillor Rick Kerr, who sits on the BIA board, says Welcoming Streets adds to a list of 20 initiatives the city is involved with to battle homelessness.
“We wanted something tangible done before [winter sets in]. That’s why we’d like to see this initiative begin at the beginning of October,” Kerr says.
The Downtown BIA is set to consult its members regarding some changes concerning its budget later this fall. Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson says he completely supports the Welcoming Streets program, but worries the BIA’s budget status could put funding in question.
“I wouldn’t like to see that a great program like this doesn’t reach its full potential in 2020 if there was a lack of funding,” he says.
Mayor Dan Carter believes if the program is successful, other potential funding partners will arise. But beyond that, he is adamant it will be more substantial than just a six-month trial.
“If I’ve got to sell a kidney we are going to move forward with it, and we’re going to find the funding for it,” he says.
Carter recently called on his fellow mayors in Durham, as well as the provincial and federal governments, for a greater effort to address the country’s opioid crisis.
He called Oshawa a “leader” in dealing with homelessness, but said more needs to be done.
“I hope all of us can stand proudly and say the City of Oshawa is in a position of leadership, not as followers,” he said.
Ward 3 city and regional councillor Bob Chapman said homeless people are facing diverse circumstances throughout the city.
While some are facing addiction and mental health issues, others are homeless due to their financial status.
He claims the region has helped 2,400 people either find housing or remain in their current housing in 2019. “A lot is being done, but there is still a lot more that needs to be done,” Chapman says.
But Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey feels there isn’t enough public information on what the city is doing to address homelessness.
“I’m feeling like I’m not in the inner circle. I’d like to be informed and educated on what we are doing because honestly, people are saying ‘What are you doing?’ and I can’t answer that,” McConkey told the committee.