Chatham-Kent council blundered on Monday by not deferring a decision to locate a homeless shelter in a former elementary school in a Chatham neighbourhood.
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On paper, the plan seems to be a solution to the continuing homeless problem in Chatham-Kent. The former Victoria Park Public School on Murray Street is almost custom-built to accommodate individuals and families who are without a home right now. But the plan’s presentation to the council, and particularly to the public and to those who live in the immediate neighbourhood, was ham-fisted.
The first time residents heard about the plan was last Friday. And a decision was made the very next business day, on Monday night. Wow – does anything else get settled that quickly at the Civic Centre?
Indeed, council hurried the plan’s approval through at its Monday meeting, disregarding the concerns and cries of those neighbours who were thoroughly caught off guard. Not only were residents surprised that a homeless shelter would be located in their neighbourhood, but they were surprised that their concerns wouldn’t be heard.
They were never asked. They were never consulted.
The plan was approved without the customary vetting and formal consultation that Chatham-Kent council routinely seeks before it makes decisions that are far less impacting than the placement of a homeless shelter within a residential neighbourhood.
That said, a homeless shelter is needed in Chatham and in Chatham-Kent. The problem of homelessness has been well-documented.
And council has already tried to solve this challenge, first by proposing a shelter on Merritt Avenue, and then in Chatham’s downtown. Both plans were shot down, mostly by homeowners and property owners. But they were shot down because those constituencies had the opportunity to respond.
Perhaps wary the same thing would happen again, a majority of councillors on Monday decided to overrule whatever qualms neighbours to the Murray Street site might have about the shelter without even hearing what those qualms might be.
Yet council’s first responsibility in this matter is not to the people who are homeless, but to the people who already have homes. They are the people who pay property taxes. They not only deserve to be formally asked and consulted before anything of this magnitude is decided, but as ratepayers they should be asked and consulted.
That they weren’t was a huge mistake on the part of those councillors who voted to move ahead with this plan.