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Welcoming Streets questioned

Mayor Dan Carter says he will not declare conflict of interest on downtown program

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

A proposed partnership aiming to make Oshawa’s streets more welcoming received some criticism at a recent council meeting.

The “Welcoming Streets” initiative gained support from city council at its latest meeting.

The program is a collaborative effort between the City of Oshawa, the Downtown Oshawa BIA, and CAREA Community Health Centre.

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. 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.

Area resident Kathy Cumming said she had traveled to Guelph to speak to some downtown business owners about that city’s Welcoming Streets program.

She said some business owners shared stories about being afraid to deal with homeless individuals.

On another occasion, the employees of a bar had no idea what the Welcoming Streets program was.

Cumming doesn’t believe the program will “meet the needs of those it’s serving or the downtown businesses.”

Resident Jeff Davis said there was no “transparency” or “accountability” regarding the background of the plan.

“There is no work plan, there is no business plan,” Davis said. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a growing problem.”

Davis also questioned why a job posting for the outreach worker position had been posted before council even approved the program.

Speaking directly to Mayor Dan Carter, Davis said all of Carter’s conflict of interest declarations so far were tied to him owning a downtown business or his wife working for Carea. He called on the mayor to declare a conflict on the Welcoming Streets program, and for a full report from the city’s integrity commissioner.

Carter defended the program, noting it “hadn’t come out of the blue.”

“We’ve all been looking for answers and actions,” the mayor said, adding that downtown business owners have been “asking desperately for us to come up with concepts and ideas.”

He said he wasn’t going to declare a conflict of interest because “people are dying on our street.”

Carter recently saw a young woman overdose near a municipal parking lot.

“If that was my granddaughter, I’d hope the mayor who witnesses that never forgot what he saw, and does everything he can to stop it,” he said.

He said as the mayor of the city he must be involved.

“If you want to throw me out of my seat because of that, you go ahead and do that,” he added.

Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson said the city “can’t simply walk away, and say it’s not our problem.”

“If we turn it down, we’ll make no steps towards a solution,” Nicholson said.

Ward 2 city councillor Jane Hurst noted pilot projects can be “wildly successful or they can die.”

However, she believes the magnitude of the job for the outreach worker is “too much for one person to take.”