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City, region calling on province, feds for help in downtown Oshawa

Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter and Regional Chair John Henry are addressing concerns in downtown Oshawa.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, they say many cities and towns have witnessed an increase of mental health challenges, addictions and housing needs among residents, while local businesses also face additional unprecedented challenges.

They note these issues are particularly prevalent in Oshawa.

“We have acknowledged concerns from residents, Oshawa downtown businesses, organizations and visitors regarding concerning activities in the downtown, homelessness, mental health and addictions, as well as economic development concerns directly related to these complex issues, and that more action is needed,” reads a joint statement.

The region – which is responsible for social services, community housing, public health, and police services – will be partnering with the city to address these complex social issues.

We are working diligently to ensure all residents feel safe and supported,” the statement continues.

A senior staff Task Force has been convened to address the immediate issues happening in downtown Oshawa.

This Task Force consists of representatives from Durham Region Social Services, Durham Region Health Department, Durham Regional Police Service, Lakeridge Health, and the City of Oshawa.

The Task Force is currently reviewing the concentrated support services offered by the region and community partners, identifying gaps and duplication of services, and taking steps to help all involved.

As a first step, a Community Code of Conduct will be created for recipients of support services, as well as the development of a Street Outreach and Encampment Strategy for Durham Region.

Other immediate actions include prioritizing street, park and private property clean up; working closely with Lakeridge Health on addiction and treatment services through a street outreach program; developing an updated local opioid response plan, including reviewing need distribution; continuing DRPS proactive presence; proactive enforcement of property standards bylaws; and working with community agencies to reinforce commitment to being a housing-focused community by expanding housing first initiatives.

Further, the task force will be supporting the city’s work with businesses and residents, and reviewing support services offered by the region and community partners to identify service gaps.

The statement notes the city and region have been addressing these unique challenges, including allocating funding, resources and staffing.

Planning is also underway at the city to develop a revitalization strategy for downtown Oshawa and to continue expanding public art and civic pride initiatives.

The region also plans to open the Oshawa Micro-Homes Pilot Project and complete its Community Safety and Well-Being Plan to address priority risk factors with strategies and measurable outcomes.

The Mayor’s Task Force on Community Safety, Security and Well-Being was also formed to identify and propose opportunities to address community safety, security and well-being issues facing the City of Oshawa.

“These initiatives will build on the work that the region is already doing to support people experiencing homelessness,” the statement continues.

This year, more than 100 new housing opportunities were created for the By-Name List – a list of people who are experiencing homelessness in Durham – and the region is on track to exceed that amount in the coming year.

Further, the Primary Care Outreach Program provides ongoing medical help and mental health counselling to more than 440 clients across the region every year.

The region says is works alongside municipalities, the province and the federal government to ensure that Durham Region continues to grow and its residents and businesses continue to thrive.

“As such, the Region and the City are engaging provincial and federal representatives to help advocate for additional support because these complex issues cannot be addressed by municipalities alone – we need strong partners,” the statement reads.

The region and city are calling on all federal party leaders and Durham Region candidates; the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair; the premier; and provincial representatives to tour downtown Oshawa.

“The purpose of this tour is to gain a better understanding of the complexity of homelessness, mental health and addiction and the impact on our community,” the statement continues.

The region and city have offered to coordinate tours in September.

“This cannot be solved without support and direction from our federal and provincial partners,” the statement reads. “We are a region that stands with all of our communities when faced with challenges. We will ensure our communities are healthy, safe and happy for all.”