Approximately 50 Lorraine Street area residents gathered on Sunday to express their opposition to a proposed transitional housing complex for the chronically homeless.
Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan organized the meeting at Const. Joseph MacDonald Park, which overlooks the proposed site west of Notre Dame Avenue’s intersection with Lasalle Boulevard.
“I’m going to be honest, I supported it in August because it sounded like it was a fit, but since we’ve been looking at it over the last couple of months, I do not feel it is a good fit for this place,” Kirwan told the crowd.
“It’s not that transitional housing is not a good thing, it’s not that transitional supports are not a good thing,” he said, clarifying that the downtown core would be a better fit for such a facility.
With this, the crowd offered their agreement via applause.
Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc also attended the meeting and joined Kirwan in expressing his opposition to the Lorraine Street location for a transitional housing complex.
“We now understand fully what this transitional housing means right now in a neighbourhood,” Leduc told Sunday’s crowd. “We’re fighting to get this transitional housing downtown, where it belongs, where the services are.”
Greater Sudbury city council selected the Lorraine Street location in August prior to public consultation due to a fast-approaching deadline to send in an application for $7.4 million in funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
A public meeting has yet to be scheduled, but will be held in the community prior to final approval.
During Sunday’s gathering, residents lamented how bad the city’s homelessness problem has become, with some expressing concerns about bringing what they’ve seen downtown to their neighbourhood.
“They threw it on our shoulders,” one resident said about city council’s site selection. “We’re the innocent ones, and we feel now we have to bear the burden of fighting this.”
Following this point in the meeting, Kirwan instructed residents on how they should present their collective case.
“If you can focus your opposition on the fact that this is not the right place for the transitional housing, that you’re not opposed to an apartment going there, but that it’s not going to help the transitional people — like the people that need those services — then that’s going to be heard loud and clear by council,” he said. “What they don’t want to hear is, ‘They just don’t want it in their backyard.’”
“This shouldn’t be in anyone’s backyard,” a resident shot back.
“We’re hoping to help the people, but this is not the place,” Kirwan said. “If that’s the message that you can get across publicly, that will help us tremendously because that’s the message that we’re trying to get across.”
Following the meeting, area resident Maria Biasucci shared this message with Sudbury.com, noting there are no services for the chronically homeless in the neighbourhood.
“They’re going to be bused downtown to get their services,” she said. “Our concern is this is not the site, it’s a small area and this is our concern.”
The idea that those who oppose this project are members of the “not in my backyard” crowd is false, she said.
“What I say to them, if this would have happened to their area and they knew that it was not the site, they would be doing what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re saying that it’s not in any neighbourhood.”
“We have concerns that if you’re going to move the situation from downtown it’s not going to take it away from downtown but spread it from there to here,” fellow area resident Jason Violino said.
“We know the services are necessary, but we feel that if you bring it this far away from the downtown it’s not going to do them any justice either.”
Kirwan told those who gathered that he planned on presenting a petition signed by residents to his colleagues on city council during a future meeting.
What has been proposed?
The project up for debate is a transitional housing complex for the city’s chronically homeless and is intended to help ease them into permanent community housing.
The number of proposed units has fluctuated, however the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation funding the city has applied for hinges on the creation of at least 28 units.
An Assertive Community Treatment Team is currently being assembled, and a business case presented earlier this year clarified the team should be able to handle between 40 and 60 clients, which would translate into an equal number of single-bed units.
Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh has championed the effort alongside Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann and Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier as a means of addressing the city’s growing homelessness problem, which also bridges mental health and addictions issues.
The team of 12 full-time and four part-time staff who would deal with patients 16 hours per day, seven days per week, include a wide swath of medical professionals such as nurses, a social services worker, addictions workers, a psychiatrist and general physician.
The facility would be a clinical setting, McIntosh told Sudbury.com prior to Sunday’s meeting, clarifying it’s not like a rooming house -- one major point of clarification she wants to offer those opposing the project.
“We can’t just take people out of tents and put them in apartments, it’s just not going to work. These people need help in a clinical-type way but still have their own space,” she said, adding that units will be similar to a university residence, “but there’s support on the other side of the door.”
Project uncertainty lingers
In addition to neighbourhood opposition, a few other points of uncertainty have cast uncertainty over the future of the proposed transitional housing project.
Although $7.4 million in funding has been pledged by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, it’s still not cash in hand and final approval has yet to come in.
There’s also the matter of ongoing funding for the facility, which will cost a projected $2.24 million per year, including $1.74 million per year in staffing costs.
Although city council has already approved temporary funding, the latest projection has the city facing an $800,000 funding shortfall in 2022, which will be debated during budget deliberations.
While Kirwan said the municipality will likely have to cover ongoing costs related to the facility, the province should be funding staff.
“City councillors have basically said it should be another level of government that’s doing this, it’s another level of government that provides the funding, but we’ve been saying that for decades,” he said, adding that it has reached a point where the waiting has to stop.
“If there’s a need in our city to help our residents … the city has to be willing to take on the responsibilities that other levels of government are supposed to be doing.”
The city has applied for funding through various sources, including the province, but has yet to secure anything.
“We don’t quite fit in any funding pot from the province,” McIntosh said, adding that although it might take some doing, the city is persisting in its advocacy.
“If no funding materializes by the end of December of this year council would have to direct where the funding would come from in the 2022 budget,” city director of social services and children services Tyler Campbell told Sudbury.com.
McIntosh is confident the project will proceed
Although a wealth of demands faces the city’s elected officials this 2022 budget season, McIntosh said she’s optimistic the transitional housing project will proceed.
“We have to do something, and we have to try,” McIntosh said, adding that although she’s only one of 13 votes in council chambers, she’s confident her colleagues prioritize this project.
As she told city council earlier this year when the project was first proposed and reiterated to Sudbury.com last week, city council is “going to have to figure out what you’re willing to give up.”
For McIntosh, news coverage surrounding the death of 22-year-old Myles Keaney put a face to the statistics surrounding overdose deaths last year and got her thinking about her own family.
“It can happen to anybody,” she said, adding that regardless of one’s upbringing, mental health and addictions know no bounds.
Since that time and as the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on, more tents have been erected throughout the city, though most notably in Memorial Park, and opioid emergency calls have skyrocketed.
As for neighbourhood opposition, McIntosh said she looks forward to attending a future public meeting with area residents to learn more about their thoughts.
She said she’s sympathetic to their concerns and understands Kirwan’s position as their elected representative but believes they’ll change their minds when facts replace lingering uncertainty.
“There are facilities all over the city that people wouldn’t even know are there because they don’t impact the neighbourhood at all, and that’s what we want.”
Some work is already proceeding
Despite uncertainty clouding the transitional housing project as a whole, some work is already proceeding.
Health Sciences North has begun onboarding Assertive Community Treatment Team staff to begin work at two pilot locations as early as next month.
“We’re working with community partners right now to determine (locations) and work through all the details, so we’re still negotiating that,” Campbell said.
“We’re working closely on it and we expect them to be up and running at the end of November, beginning in December.”
The team is similar to two mobile teams managed by Health Sciences North that already operate in Greater Sudbury and are funded by the North East Local Health Integration Network.
Tentatively funded by the municipality, the new team is being set up to help a client base of between 15 and 20 people at the two pilot locations. This team is smaller in scope than the full team that has been proposed, which has been projected to help between 40 and 60 patients, and is expected to ramp up by the time the transitional housing complex opens.