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Seven things Barrie city council agrees on to address poverty

Coun. Mike McCann withdrew a motion critics said criminalized poverty

After a lengthy debate, Barrie councillors were able to find some common ground to tackle a wide range of social issues including drug addiction, affordable housing, mental health and homelessness.

Prior to Monday’s general committee meeting, there was a protest led by a group opposed to a motion from Coun. Mike McCann they said would further criminalize poverty.

The pilot program proposed by McCann to try and end panhandling, prostitution and drug dealing to create a safer downtown Barrie ended up being withdrawn.

The motion went as far as to consider using a private security company or paid duty police officers from July to October.

McCann said his decision to withdraw was done for what is best for the community.

“Let’s not stop talking about this, and let’s get a solution.”

Instead, council backed a new motion from Coun. Robert Thomson and Keenan Aylwin that has seven components.

“There isn’t a higher level of crime downtown,” said Aylwin, whose ward includes the city core. “We need to stop this anti-marketing campaign of our downtown.”

Aylwin was hopeful the discussion about poverty, mental health and homelessness would spirit togetherness.

“These are my neighbours, and they are human beings deserving of dignity, understanding and respect, real support,” he said. “I just hope that we can take this lesson this evening and not try to make political hay or score political points on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in our community because it hurts people, and it stigmatizes people.”

The motion that was approved:

  • That the Barrie Police Service be requested to present an implementation framework to city council outlining how they are going to carry out their legislative responsibility to meet the objectives of the provincially-legislated City of Barrie community safety and well-being plan, and continued collaboration efforts with all service partners to support those experiencing mental health crisis, addiction and homelessness
  • As part of their 2023 budget, the Barrie Police Services Board present council with a budget inclusive of the full complement of members required to support the community and safety well-being plan and implementation of the Barrie Police Service strategic plan
  • That correspondence be sent to the Ontario Provincial Police requesting OPP to continue their efforts to address the safety of Highway 400 ramps
  • Correspondence be sent to the provincial government and local MPPs requesting them to make increased investment in resourcing social service agencies and continue to collaborate on the important work of improving discharge planning from provincial institutions – such as hospitals, correctional institutions and mental health facilities – as a priority
  • Correspondence be sent to the federal and provincial government requesting them to make significant investments in housing for low-income individuals and families to address the current housing and homelessness crisis
  • Correspondence be sent to local MPPs, the minister of Children, Community, and Social Services, and the premier in support of immediately raising Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Social Assistance rates above the poverty line
  • Staff investigate the feasibility of a pilot program to retain outreach workers and/or social workers to assist people experiencing homelessness and living in poverty to connect to services and to act as a resource for residents and businesses and report back to Barrie council

There was some concern raised about provincial police being asked to continue to address the safety of Highway 400 ramps where people panhandle and have even established some tent cities, and if this might suggest the city was giving them a licence to clear them out.

“The Ministry of Transportation and the OPP are looking at perhaps removing the camps alongside the 400. My worry is they are going to see this wording, and the justification to do it,” said Acting Mayor Barry Ward.

But Thompson said he wasn’t trying to criminalize what was happening on the ramps, but rather focus on safety for everyone.

“I’ve said numerous times that there is not a person in here that says living on a ramp or off-ramp is humane, and it’s not, it’s loud, and it’s dangerous.”

Aylwin said what we are seeing is people are supposed to be getting support who are living in poverty.

“There are thousands of people in our community on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support payments who are living in poverty. These are people on social assistance living in poverty. Let that sink in,” he noted.

City council will consider final approval of the motion at its meeting June 6.