Improving the Downtown Environment
by Addressing Homelessness

The city is neither a charity nor a benevolent supporter of charities. Council has no right to donate any of our tax dollars to support charitable causes no matter how great the need may be. However Council does have a responsibly to ensure that we have a safe downtown core where people feel safe.  It is not as simple as rounding up the vagrants and destroying illegal homeless encampments.  As many cities have found such actions just move the problem around.
Medicine Hat Solved their Homeless Problem - Housing First

Addressing the Homeless Problem     The Community Survey identified Homelessness as one of the top issues facing residents. People just don't feel safe downtown anymore and are fearful when approached by a panhandler or homeless person downtown. It is not sufficient for Council to tell us that they’ve uploaded this problem to the County. The city has the sole responsibility of keeping its residents safe by proactively dealing with the homeless problem; not the County.  It’s apparent that there are many reasons for homeless encampments on city property including addiction to drugs and alcohol. Traditional addiction counseling in homeless encampments has not been successful.  What has worked in many cities is a “Housing First” approach

I found it interesting that during the debate on the whether or not we should spend $30,000 on a feasibly study for a new Art Gallery building that one councilor had the courage to suggest that we could address the Gallery’s space issues by selling some of the collection.  In an attempt to snuff out that radical idea, one councilor immediately responded by saying: “it’s not that easy” and then quickly asked the Art Gallery Director for confirmation. Well, there are many things in life that are not easy. For example, it’s not that easy just to survive when you find yourself addicted to pain pills after a car accident that nearly took your life and you find yourself on the street. Addiction knows no social or economic barriers. It affects all social classes equally. The only difference is that the wealthy can afford expensive private clinics. The rest of us can quickly end up homeless on the street.

In April the province announced a 36 bed addiction treatment center for Owen Sound where patients can stay up to six months. What happens when you’re on the road to recovery and your six months is up?  Well that’s where a “Housing-First” Program can help people stay on track as well as help those waiting to get a bed in the treatment center.

How We Pay for a Housing First Program     It just doesn’t seem right that we have tens of millions of dollars tied up in an art collection that doesn’t produce any return to taxpayers and is not at all valued by the vast majority of residents. Yet, we have a number of homeless on the streets and homeless encampments in our green space and even others dying from fentanyl-laced street drugs.  People don't feel safe downtown any more yet we are investing tax dollars in developing the Riverside area downtown in an attempt to attract new visitors to the downtown core.  Unless we address the homeless issue first, this will be more money wasted on a losing battle to improve activity in the downtown core.

"Owen Sound sitting on an $80* million art collection while some of its residents are living in tents and dying on our streets is analogous to Owen Sound parents having millions of dollars in the bank while their children are struggling to survive on the streets, living in a tents in the woods and are dying from poisoned drugs."
                   If that ever happened they would be shamed out of town!

If we were to sell all or part of the art collection and invest the proceeds we could generate as much as five million dollars annually. These funds could be used to fund a “Housing First” program  as well as enhance support for our local art community and freeze taxes.  As the City of Medicine Hat found when you provide the homeless with permanent housing they are more receptive to mental health and addiction counseling.  Information on this program is available on the Canadian Government website at this line   “Housing First”   and a fact sheet produced by National Alliance to End Homelessness is available here.  

How many lives can be saved by the sale of a single Tom Thompson Painting?
Answer: at least ten lives would be saved.  

How many Owen Sound residents are willing to trade one Painting for Ten lives?
Answer: the majority of us would do it in a heartbeat. 

So why not sell all of the paintings and save all of the at risk homeless

 View Five Short YouTube Videos on the Five Principles of Housing First   ... created by Gwen Haworth

 * estimated value based on Councilor's statement that the value of the collection, "exceeds tens of millions of dollars"