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LETTER: Emergency shelter within any residential area a poor fit

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In light of last week’s stabbing of a man in the area of the homeless encampment near the proposed Murray Street shelter, and the earlier stabbing involving two homeless men and an 80-year-old man, members of the Tecumseh Park Neighbourhood Association’s concerns focus on safety for the proposed shelter residents, neighbourhood families, Islamic Faith residential school children, Montessori and daycare children and elderly residents of Eden Villa.

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It is important to note that we recognize that the homeless population is not a homogenous group, and it is also important to acknowledge that the most frequent reason for homelessness, as cited by the homeless, is substance use and addiction. (Government Point in Time Survey, 19,586 homeless in 61 cities, 2018)

There needs to be an emphasis on treatment and support which includes qualified addiction counsellors sufficient in numbers to meet the needs of the population they are serving. The Tecumseh Park Neighbourhood Community has not been apprised of a detailed plan for the proposed Murray Street emergency shelter residents.

Providing a 50-plus shelter in a residential neighbourhood is not a solution. A lack of foresight and planning on the part of municipal officials has put the homeless and the community at risk. A lack of engagement and inclusion of the community and homelessness serving organizations present further challenges to any sort of collaboration. A cot in a crowded room within an abandoned school is not a home and an emergency shelter within any residential area is a poor fit.

There are several levels of care for homeless people and the emergency shelter is at the bottom of the levels in terms of client self-sufficiency. Municipal officials spoke frequently of “stayers” and this is problematic. A stayer is not making progress with moving toward self-sufficiency. The longer an individual is homeless, the greater the probability they will become addicted. The longer a person is a “stayer” in a shelter, the more funding is required to support them. The longer an individual is a “stayer” in a shelter, the greater the cost to their self-esteem and their ability to help themselves.

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Given that many homeless individuals we have observed in the downtown, Grand Avenue, TraveLodge and Tecumseh Park areas experience mental health and substance issues, our concern with the proposed location is it would only serve to exacerbate any pre-existing addiction issues that prospective shelter residents may have and create problems for the staff within the shelter for the following reasons: proximity to drug houses, proximity to open areas and private property off limits to police for burning coatings from stolen wire, proximity to lumber yards for supplies and tools, proximity to Tecumseh Park, river and creek banks that afford an opportunity to hide illicit conduct, proximity to Black Creek bridge that currently serves as a conduit for obscure travel between Taylor Avenue, Grand Avenue and the Tecumseh Park neighbourhood, proximity to two large encampments of homeless people on private properties.

There needs to be staff training to develop skills in a trauma-informed approach where the integration of knowledge about trauma informs policies, procedures and practice.  The placement of vulnerable people adjacent to a homeless encampment on private property creates a significant risk for re-traumatization.

This property has a long history of violence including the brutal sexual assault and fatal beating of a young boy in 1994. Encampments of homeless have been stationed here for years.

The presence of the local encampments in Chatham increase the probability for conflict with the homeless residing in or seeking services at the proposed adjacent Murray Street emergency shelter. If neighbours are located between the addict and the drug or between the alcoholic and the alcohol, there is a much greater chance that they too will be harmed.

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We have learned there are no plans for adequate security or supervision. Properly trained and supported security, on duty 24 hours per day, is key to mitigating conflict, violence, theft and property damage within the shelter and within the community.

Research informs us that property crime increases by 56 per cent within a three to four-block radius of a residential shelter and that most security issues take place within 400 metres of the shelter.

Reviewing best practice models outside Chatham-Kent as well as looking at examples of shelters where there were issues is helpful when building a plan for success.

Providing space within any type of shelter for the community mobilization constables would allow police to become part of a visible team working together with the community to assist people in crisis that are suffering from mental health, homelessness, poverty and addiction. We see benefits to this approach along with proactive policing. Simply having police visible both in the shelter and in the neighbourhood would serve to deter crime and save hours of work and expense with addressing issues after crime has occurred.

Given that 25 to 50 per cent of the homeless suffer from mental health and/or addiction issues, our children are not equipped to witness or manage the behaviours associated with these conditions. Nor should they as they play in their front yard, skip down the street or wait for their school bus.

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Concerns on the part of the public have been raised regarding the proximity of the proposed emergency shelter to Darul Uloom, a residential school for 90 plus youngsters ranging in age from four to 19.

The Montessori preschool children enjoy walks through the park and throughout the neighbourhood including Murray Street. The Municipality has not provided any plan to mitigate risk exposure for our little ones.

We also have concerns for the future of our neighbourhood children as they begin to normalize seeing drug paraphernalia in their playgrounds and front yards, as they see people in medical distress from substance use and as they observe drug deals taking place at nearby houses. One of our moms runs ahead of her children when entering the park and with rubber gloves and a Ziplock bag and collects needles so that her children do not encounter them.

Dr. Anna Lembke, a Stanford University Professor and Psychiatrist specializing in addictions speaks about the power of accessibility when it comes to addiction. “There are many risk factors for addiction that can be divided into three categories; nature, nurture and most significantly neighbourhood.” She states that “simple access to the drug, if you live in a neighbourhood where that drug is sold nearby increases the probability of usage and addiction.”

The fact there are several drug houses in close proximity to the emergency shelter and homeless encampment does not bode well for either shelter residents or local families.

Susan Simpson Schultz

Chatham

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