Community Concerns

A Welcoming, Growing, Worshiping and Sharing Church

Question Emailed to St.Catharines Candidates for Regional Council on October 15, 2018**

Can OOTC rely on you to champion the rights of the homeless on Regional Council by keeping the pressure on Regional staff to help provide such a dedicated shelter location without any further delay? How would you propose to proceed in achieving the fulfilment of this urgent need?”

**Candidates were asked to reply by noon Thursday October 18 to permit sharing the responses or non-responses with the over 400 OOTC volunteers and participating churches prior to the Oct 22 election. Emails were sent to the 21 candidates who indicated email addresses. Alan Caslin and Bob Szajkowski listed no email address, but were left voicemail inviting them to provide one.

The Responses

Following are the email responses in the order received.

1. Laura Ip

I think most people know where I stand on the housing crisis; however, to answer your question directly, yes, I would absolutely champion the rights of the homeless and work with Regional staff to work toward ensuring a permanent location for this extremely important program.

At present, I don’t know how many concrete ideas I have that would further the work of locating a permanent shelter, but – at the very least – I would advocate for the use of existing and vacant (or not fully utilized Regional and City (if they’ll agree to cooperate) buildings.

2. Haley Bateman

Thank you for all that you are doing for our community, I have worked in social services for many years and i have an understanding of the amount of work it takes, the dedication and the inspiration you provide to our others.

That being said, I will wholeheartedly support a shelter and the establishment of a proper program. If we cannot find a suitable location using a Regional Site, then I would look to lease a privately owned site. I also support a financial contribution from our Region to assist any church or community group who has provided support to these programs and has dealt with damage to their property. To be honest, I am not sure if we would be allowed to do that, but it does seem very fair, given the fact that you have been managing OOTC without Council’s support for many years.

I believe how we treat our most vulnerable is a reflection of our community. I would like Council to adopt a set of shared values that govern our decisions – most importantly supporting the most vulnerable populations.

3. Len Stack

The OOTC organizers can definitely count on me to champion their tremendous efforts to help the less fortunate.  We, as a society, have a moral obligation to help and protect those less fortunate than ourselves. This includes providing basic needs such as food, shelter and protection from the natural elements. I will happily continue to pressure Regional staff to help provide a dedicated shelter location now without any further delay. This is an urgent need and as a Regional Councillor I will tirelessly continue to be and advocate for all those suffering from poverty, loneliness, mental illness and anyone who falls victim to unforeseen circumstances.  We must fight for those who cannot fight for themselves and give them a voice to ensure they are provided with all the basic human needs.

To do any less is totally unacceptable. There is money and that money needs to be redirected to helping all those in need of assistance. Poverty, homelessness, and mental illness is on the rise and it will be up to our community leaders to ensure help is provided where it is needed. Far too much money is wasted at all our levels of government. It’s time for this waste to stop and fiscal responsibility must be our first and most important mandate. 

4. Debbie MacGregor

I so would love to speak with you LIVE. 

5. George Darte III

It is great that people like you and all of the out of the cold gang care for those less fortunate. Thank God we have you. 

I know of the lack of a permanent shelter concern if not crisis, for your program. 

I believe that it is not the Regional staff that pressure needs to be exerted on, rather it is the Regional Councillors that need that desired pressure. They tell the staff what to do. The homeless shelter as well as the opioid crisis is everyone’s responsiblity. I’m thinking that we can ask regional business to donate money for these solutions as the first part. But we in business get requests from many different groups so it not just up to business who always get tapped to donate money but it is the duty of all households who can afford to donate. They should not get off the hook to help their fellow man and woman. Remember, to whom much has been given, much is expected. 

I’ve done a lot of fundraising over the years with many other fellow volunteers. All businesses and households should make an annual pledge to those 2 individual causes.  Having either chaired or been on fundraising teams over many years I would be most effective on creating with other fellow fundraisers, a campaign to raise this badly needed money. 

You may share my response with whoever you wish. Please be sure to tell them to vote for the candidates they feel will best suited to govern the region for the next 4 years. While you’re at it, tell them they do not have to vote for 6 candidates. 

I am also including my long version platform. [not included here]

Keep up the great work!!

6. Mike Britton

Thank you for reaching out and for the very important work you do in our community.

You can certainly rely on me to champion the rights of homeless on Regional Council.

The Out of the Cold Program is very near to me as my Grandparents, Ray and Maxine Attick, help to start it with Susan Venditti back in the 90s and continued to run at St Paul Street Church (now Silver Spire) for over a decade. As a child, I remember helping my grandfather go to the different grocery stores to pick up food donations and helping to bring in mattresses and set up the gym the afternoon before. I believe this volunteering as a young boy and seeing my Grandparents’ selfless work has played a big role in making me committed to helping my community now.

As for specifics: as a member of St Catharines City Council, I already passed am motion at the September 24th meeting directing staff to work with the Out of Cold Program to secure a temporary solution for this year (which we thankfully did). But after meeting with Susan, I expanded the motion to include “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that City Council direct staff to work with Start Me Up Niagara, other hostel service providers, Niagara Regional Community Services, and our private sector contacts to find a long term permanent location for the Out of the Cold Program; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that up to $15,000 from the Civic Project Fund be allocated for this initiative.” So I believe my record shows my support and commitment.

From a Regional perspective, I have many new ideas for affordable housing which includes those specifically targeted to combat homelessness. From the tiny homes initiatives (Vancouver uses them to allow a ‘housing first model’ for homeless whereas Detroit’s model is to make rent so it can be a rent-to-own scenario) to other ideas like bringing the LA Dream Centre model to Niagara. All of these ideas should be coupled with bringing the Niagara Regional Housing administration back under the Region. Currently, housing is siloed off from all the other services the Region provides like Ontario Works, public health, and other services which would help those on subsidies potentially get off them. Bringing it back under the Region would allow for those clients to get a comprehensive and holistic hand up – not simply housing.

There is no silver bullet for solving homelessness and poverty, but I believe the current way we are doing things is not working and these innovative ideas I want to bring to the table can help.

I hope this answers your question and shows my support for the program. I am happy to answer any follow-ups you may have too

7. Tim Rigby

Thank you for the question.  You are probably not aware that I am on the Board of Niagara Region Housing I chair the Regions Homeless Action Committee which involves citizens who represent various service providers, the members from staff of Niagara Housing and Community Services.  The Committee is extremely active in identifying needs and requirements.  Part of which is about How Out in the Cold, Southridge, YWCA, and Salvation Army, Faith based Breakfast Service, all provide help to the primarily homeless.


I will if elected, or for that matter if not elected, will continue to work for better ways to help our most needy. If the pamphlet is suggesting one centre I would suggest more smaller units not all in the centre of the City.

8. Peter Gill

Thanks for forwarding your question to me. If elected I will be very supportive for permanent facilities for the homeless. As a retired Police Inspector I am very familiar with the challenges facing the homeless and the additional associated issues such as addictions and mental health problems. I am in no way an expert on the subject and would rely on organizations like yours to advise what facilities are needed. I would hope that rehabilitation and treatment programs would be included as part of any proposed facility.

9. Rob DePetris

 Thanks for your question. I think Niagara residents are thankful for all the great work the OOTC has done and continues to do for the homeless. I will champion the rights of the homeless at Regional Council and we need to find a dedicated shelter location without delay. This is commitment that is in the Regions’ Housing Action Plan. In the 2013 action plan they state that they will within 2 or 3 years they will “Sustain Regional Funding for current homelessness services and shelter initiatives. Given the growth in demand in downtown St. Catharines the need is obviously there. So I would sit down with the OOTC, City, RAFT, Start me up Niagara, YWCA and other groups and identify specific needs and costs of such a shelter. Also need to determine who would run shelter, governance structure and more. I would identify potential sites looking first at excess public buildings (I know the City has excess space at building on Academy at the Bus terminal for example). I would identify funding opportunities from provincial and federal sources and ask the Regional Council to make a firm commitment to such a shelter.

This would need to be done now. I would suggest we would likely not have such a building and services running in 2018 but we need asap.

I am sure I have not thought of some issues that the shelter would face and I am open to suggestions from OOTC and other groups as to what we need to do here. That said I think we need to understand the needs and put a funding request together asap and get commitment from Regional Council and others. If you would like to discuss more please call me at 289 929 8948.

10. Emily Beth Spanton

I am an addictions counsellor and outreach worker, with a background in the emergency shelter system (formerly of the YWCA Niagara, King St location); I support a real and holistic approach to the many failings of the social indicators of health Niagara is experiencing. 

I would like to go further than a dedicated Out of the Cold building, I would like to see a health centre with the ability to house OOTC and provide 24 hour mental health support. As we know, most crisis do not happen between 9-5 and, I believe, the Region relies too heavily on NGO’s… It’s time we create a multidisciplinary centre that addresses the many needs of our community. 

As someone who has volunteered with Niagara Counts, I know first hand the need for real action on homelessness, affordable housing, and supportive housing. In fact, please add me to the list of volunteers for OOTC – I am always happy to give my time to support my neighbours. 

If you have any further questions, or if I can he of service in any way, please let me know; it is through engagement, and education, that we will move forward as a community. 

11. Kelly Edgar

The Regional Municipality of Niagara contracts with Start Me Up Niagara and funds their program directly through scant Provincial funds provided for this purpose. This organization has been searching for dedicated space for this program and although unable to find anything yet, they have been able to find increased space for this season.

As a municipality, Niagara is very similar in size to Hamilton and yet we receive just 1/3 the amount of government funds that they do. It is a very unfair situation that we find ourselves in as we try to work with these circumstances, but the Region is doing all that they can.

As a Councillor, I am committed to working with Regional staff in the coming term to review the current homeless shelter system as we work to increase Niagara’s share of funding from the province for this purpose.

12. Mark Elliott

The short answer to your question is an emphatic “yes!” The long answer to your question is in my housing statement, which I have outlines below;

Housing: There are three main components to the housing issue in St. Catharines in particular and Niagara in General.  

1. Homelessness

2. Subsidized Housing

3. Affordable Housing

In my view, all are equally important issues to be address, at least in part by the Region

1.  There are a multitude of reasons for homelessness, making it a complex issue.  Liveable Wages, Addiction, Mental Health are all components that contribute to homelessness.  The first thing we need to do to address the issue is to provide a permanent, purpose-built shelter where people feel safe, secure and cared about.  From there we can work on the other issues.  I believe that a shelter should be the responsibility of the Region and the Municipality in partnership, and we should look to social service agencies that are closest to the issue for support and administration.

2. There is a subsidized housing crisis in Niagara and the current models for developing and constructing subsidized housing are not working.  There are models out there in other major Centre’s in North America that are working.  For example; In Portland Oregon, subsidized housing is being developed in various forms, using a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 principle.  These projects include 1/3 subsidized units; 1/3 market rent units; and 1/3 condominium ownership units.  All units are finished the same and are indistinguishable.  People in the subsidized units can move up to market rent units, without leaving their neighborhood and in some cases not leaving their units.  The same applies in moving from market rent units to condominium.  The type of units are bought and sold to maintain balance, but the tenancy remains stable.  The income from market rent units, helps to pay for the maintenance of the development, while the income from condominium sales helps to create capital for the next project.  This is just one example of the type of models that are currently being used that could contribute to better quality environments and a greater availability of units.  Others models include public / private partnerships, private developments and private / not-for-profit partnerships and a number of combinations thereof.  The point is, we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

3. The recent adjustment that occurred in the housing market has made it incredibly difficult for first time home buyers to enter the housing market and for senior downsizers to find suitable housing forms to downsize into.  Developers will continue to build larger scale homes to meet the new GTHA market pressure.  We need to demonstrate to developers and builders that smaller affordable units can be profitable as well.  I believe that we need to investigate form-based zoning as opposed to conventional zoning,that would allow for higher density smaller form housing to be allowed in single family neighborhoods and how form-based Zoning could be incorporated into the Region’s new Official Plan and be encouraged in the official plans of the region’s municipalities. This form of zoning allows for the creation of housing types, often termed as the “Missing Middle” to be constructed, where appropriate, in neighborhood traditionally reserved for lower density. Because of the smaller built form of Missing Middle housing, R1 zones are able to be densified with less impact.  Missing Middle housing types include; Side-by-side Duplex; Stacked Duplex; Bungalow Court; Carriage House; Fourplex; Small Multiplex; Townhouse; Live/Work; and Courtyard Apartments.  I will investigate and advocate for changes to local zoning regulations and building codes to allow for accessory dwelling units on appropriate established residential properties and suitable zoning provisions that would permit “Tiny Homes” and “Tiny Home Communities” in fitting locations.  I would consider incentives through a CIP (Community Improvement Program) type strategy, for the construction of affordable, smaller form, higher density market rent, subsidized and saleable housing.

13. Brian Heit

  1. Yes you can count on me to continue to champion the rights for the homeless.
  2. In the past 5 months, I have been in discussion with staff from one of the churches while pulling from the Out of The Cold program, Sue Venditti, and Regional staff to make sure a solution was in place for this year’s OOTC program.
  3. We need to continue to lobby the upper levels of Government for additional funding for the prosperity issues and affordable housing.

14. Mo Al Jumaily

Yes, you can rely on me to make sure there are dedicated shelter locations. Not only shelter locations but I also advocate building “tiny homes” for the homeless on public lands as was done by Hamilton. This is better than a shelter. Regional staff are ultimately directed by upper management of the Regional government, and I would replace the current CAO for cause, and upper management, as they have shown they are unqualified. Regional staff I interact with regularly tell me how their work is hampered by upper management, which needs to be replaced for staff to do an effective job and to restore their morale.

No Response

There was no response by the requested deadline of noon October 18, 2018 from the following candidates: Paul Allan, Sandie Bellows, **Jim Bradley, Alan Caslin, Lou Felice, Mary Margaret Murphy, Frank Rupcic, Bob Szajkowski***, and Bruce Timms.

**However, at 5:00PM, Oct 18 Jim Bradley replied as follows:

“Yes.  You can rely on me to do so. This is an issue I would raise at Regional Council at the earliest opportunity.”

***At 4:00PM Friday Oct 19 Bob Szajkowski phoned in reply to the voicemail stating that care for the homeless is “important”. He declined providing his email address when he was advised that the deadline for response had passed.

Response Rate & Recommendations For Future OOTC Action

16 of 23 candidates (if the Szajkowski comment is included) responded positively to the idea of making a dedicated overnight location for the homeless a priority on next Regional Council.

  1. All elected councillors should be emailed soon after the election on this issue, again providing a copy of the We Need Change document.
  2. Those elected councillors who supported the idea should be reminded of what they said.
  3. Those elected councillors who were silent should be given the opportunity to respond.
  4. If there is still to be a “Homeless Action Committee” (“HAC”)  going forward ( Tim Rigby advised that he has been the Chair) , the new Chair should be contacted ASAP to keep the pressure on as there is some reason to doubt that the We Need Change document was presented to the HAC in a timely fashion, if at all.
  5. In the interest of transparency and openness (which many candidates who spoke at the all candidates meeting promised to bring to Council) we should ask HAC to invite an OOTC rep  to attend all meetings of the HAC.
  6. The OOTC task force on developing working requirements for an overnight facility for 40 to 50 persons was delegated power to add interested members of the community so that as many interested stakeholders as possible be included on the task force. Such a representative task force may decide to expand its mandate to take on fund-raising for the construction of such a facility. Several candidate respondents were enthusiastic supporters who should be invited to join the task force, whether or not elected. For example, George Darte cited his extensive fund-raising experience. Tim Rigby offered to “continue to work” whether or not elected.

Respectfully submitted,

Robin McDonald