Which Candidates for Council Support Homeless Initiatives
Below is an email that I sent out to all candidates
to see their opinions on applying, what should be a Transit Budget
surplus of $500,000 to trial a "Housing First" Program in Owen
Sound. I would have thought that this suggestion would have been
well received. I was wrong. Most people on this year's council
responded by pointing our that this was a County problem while most
candidates seeking a seat agreed that the city needs to take the
lead on housing our homeless. Let me know what you think by leaving
your comments below..
Transit Financial Audit
Transportation Services grew by 79.9% between 2011 and 2020. We don’t know how Transit Service contributed to this growth, but we do know that Owen Sound taxpayers are paying much more for Transit Services than similarly sized municipalities. Brockville for example, an almost identically sized municipality, provides Transit Services for only 40% of what we are paying. This doesn’t seem plausible.
Transit Services requested and received a budget increase of $504,000 this year. The transit budget was developed based on information from the existing supplier and not based on bids from a Request for Proposals (RFP) process that was underway at the time. My rhetorical questions are: why did staff not ensure that the RFP results were available prior to the budget process? and why staff base a budget request on what amounts to posturing from a company hoping to win a contract?
As it turned out when the RFP process completed, just weeks after the budget was approved, it was revealed that the winning bid was actually lower than 2021 prices. As well, the budget request assumed that the fare box revenue would be down by $194,000 as a result of an anticipated 50% reduction in ridership. Yet it was recently reported that ridership is up so far this year. Hence the $504,000 transit 2022 budget increase was completely unnecessary. An independent Financial Audit of the transit department will shed light on how tax dollars are being spent and possibly identify what can be done to improve ridership while reducing costs.
Housing First Program
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.
There are many reasons for homeless encampments on city property including mental health, financial stress and addiction. Traditional counseling in homeless encampments has not been successful. What has worked in many cities is a “Housing First” approach. There are many cities that have solved homelessness by rolling out a Housing First program - Medicine Hat for one example, as outline here: https://youtu.be/ctXEUM5mqbg. A comprehensive overview of why Housing First works can be found here: https://owensoundtaxes.com/Taxes/homeless.asp
When a homeless person is able to find accommodation, they can receive a housing allowance from social services. However, with the high rents in Owen Sound it is nearly impossible to find a rental within this budget. Therefore, a city subsidy will be required to successfully house the homeless. This could be as much as $900 per month or about $11,000 per year per individual.
If this year's $500,000 budget surplus were to be applied to fund a trial of a Housing First Program, we could house in the order of 40 people for the next 12 months, or as many as 80 people over the winter months. This would test the viability of a future Housing First Program in Owen Sound.
How would you have answered these questions?