*This letter to the editor from Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger is in response to the recent Sudbury.com editorial: "Politicians’ attention to downtown has to be more than passionate lip-service".
I would like to respond to comments made by the editorial board of Sudbury.com.
It was, unfortunately, missing many facts that I’m happy to share with you in this letter. I can assure you, I, along with council, have done a great deal to take a holistic approach to the socio-economic health of our downtown.
I too have been concerned, both about our most vulnerable, as well as our businesses. It is not an easy time for anyone, and COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue and brought it to the fore. With many people working from home or not being in the downtown at night, it has made the situation much worse.
I am taking this escalated situation extremely seriously, which is why I called a meeting of our partners last Tuesday, and we have formed a task team, as the downtown is in crisis.
But – the downtown and our most vulnerable have been top of mind for me for my entire time as Mayor. One of the first things I did, as Mayor elect was work with councillors and staff to ensure that we had an Out of the Cold Shelter fully operational, as there was a lapse in service due to the election.
In 2017, council donated 200 Larch St., the former police building, which has now been fully funded as the Off the Street Shelter. This $1 million donation leveraged $16 million from the province, and now provides services, accommodation and medical care to some of our most vulnerable.
Also in 2017, I participated in a round table on the opioid crisis with the Minister of Health, to advocate on many of the issues we have been facing in our community. It is something that I have been and continue to be very concerned about.
Here are some additional things we have been working on:
- Meetings with the Co-Chairs of the community drug strategy throughout my term to discuss community needs and how to best support them.
- Meetings in 2018 on issues relating to discarded needles and how to address the issue in the community with councillors and stakeholders. This resulted in funding of almost $100,000 to Sudbury Action Centre for Youth (SACY) for needle removal and clean-up as well as the review of other options to address this problem.
- In February 2020, we convened a stakeholder roundtable with the Associate Minister of Health and Addictions, Michael Tibollo, to bring the issues we are facing to light with the government and to ask for assistance.
- Working with the Chairs of the Community Drug Strategy to submit proposals for both a Youth Hub, attempting to address the root causes of these issues and many discussions on a feasibility study for a safe consumption site. These have both been submitted to the Provincial Government.
- Working with our council representative on the BIA, Cou. Geoff McCausland, along with other councillors, to address the many issues in the downtown.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve kept our most vulnerable top-of-mind, quickly opening the arena for drop-in and meals, funded the YMCA for drop in, worked with the Centre de Santé Communautaire for drop in during the day, as well as providing a hotel for those needing shelter. We did so because we care about all citizens in our community.
We have also addressed other issues relating to the businesses in the downtown – being very open and accommodating to their needs when we entered Stage 2 opening in relation to the COVID-19 response. For example, we were willing to close down Durham Street to allow patios. The BIA preferred sidewalk patios, so we worked with them to achieve that quickly.
I would also like to share, that I as Mayor along with council, do not direct the Greater Sudbury Police Service. I am very fortunate to have a good working relationship with Chief Pedersen. I take his lead on policing matters, as the Police Services Act states that he, along with the board, are responsible for decisions relating to the police.
In 2018, after being elected, I asked Chief Pedersen to put officers in the Rainbow Mall. At the time, he stated that it would have been better to have these officers on the street, and that’s what he undertook to do, putting four additional officers downtown. He has recently deployed an action team of 12 officers to assist in the downtown. I thank him for this work.
At the city, we have commenced increased garbage pick-up, are addressing lighting issues and are working on graffiti removal. Additional security positions in the downtown will be filled in the very near future and in the interim, contracted security will be used.
I would like to thank everyone who has been working tirelessly to keep our community safe and work to help our most vulnerable. Is there more work to do? Of course there is and we will continue to do all everything we can. Rest assured that I and all of council take these issues very seriously.
I would ask one thing of all of you; be kind to one another. This year has been very trying, and we are better as a community when we work together.
Mayor, City of Greater Sudbury