Niagara Falls resident Angela Peebles received a round of applause at city council on Tuesday after giving a powerful presentation on the lack of resources for the homeless in the city.
She said she was told by Mayor Diodati and council that addressing homelessness was not the city’s mandate, and was “the region’s problem.”
In her presentation she asked council to pledge commitment to a permanent homeless shelter in the city and tackling homelessness at a municipal level.
“If Niagara Falls isn’t a part of the solution, it’s a part of the problem,” she said.
“I’m going to tell you about my friend Greg. He is a member of our community that I’ve known for seven years, and of those seven years, he has spent more nights on the street than off.”
“Last Thursday, Greg knocked on the back door of our diner. It was cold and windy outside and I could see in his face that he was having a rough time. He told me he had no place to stay that night.”
“Our city, Greg’s home, let him down last Thursday night,” Peebles told the room full of city councillors.
“You see currently in Niagara Falls there is no emergency overnight shelter for people like Greg — members of our community — to go for a hot meal and a safe place to sleep.”
Peebles said thankfully her and a network of people helped Greg get to a shelter in St. Catharines.
She said she recently attended a forum on homelessness in Niagara, where she learned some “sobering” facts.
Some of the facts she told council were:
- Niagara Falls has a youth shelter designed to accommodate up to 10 youth. It is often full.
- There are 12 beds for chronically homeless men. It’s in a motel and is currently full with a waiting list.
- There are thousands of residents living in motels, one rent increase away from living on the streets.
- The YWCA is operating at 105 per cent occupancy. There are 20 beds and they are housing 29 people. A single mother with six children is currently sleeping in a conference room.
- No One Goes Hungry Niagara fed 24,000 people in 2017.
Peebles applauded the efforts of those who quickly set up pop-up shelters at local churches when the extreme low temperates gripped the city in December.
Sadly, she pointed out, those churches were unable to commit to long-term shelters.
She said its time the city took initiative to help its homeless, regardless of the Region.
“Right now the solution is to transport our friends, the most vulnerable residents of our city, out of town to St. Catharines, to shelter in the Out of the Cold Program there,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot of things on about the street from talking to Greg, and one think I know is that sending someone who is already so vulnerable out of town and away from the minute amount of normalcy that they have in no way preserves their dignity.”
Coun. Carolyn Ioannoni applauded Peebles’ presentation and the efforts of those who take the initiative to help those in need, and said the city is already in the works of coordinating a 30-day shelter starting in February, though she said the location is not 100 per cent certain yet.
In somewhat of a contrast, Dianne Munro, another presenter, asked council to consider a more moderated approach and not to have a “knee-jerk reaction” to the problem.
She explained that homelessness comes in many forms, the most common being economic homelessness — individuals or families living at or below the poverty line, with no access to affordable housing.
Other types of homelessness, she said, include the “rebellious adolescent”, which she explained is a youth or young adult who leaves home due to perceived or real abuse issues.
The third, she said, are the chronic homeless, who often refuse to enter shelters due to past experiences of abuse.
Munro said it’s the chronic homeless that society tends to react to, and urged council that each different type of homelessness requires a different approach to effectively tackle the issues.
“First the problem must be identified and quantified,” said Munro. “You cannot propose a solution if you do not know the nature and the number of individuals who are homeless in our community.”
“It may well be that the solution is a regional one and not a city responsibility,” she said. “But until a study is done, the extent of the problem can not be known and the solution will be reactive, and not necessarily appropriate to the situation.”
She pointed out most shelters house 30 to 50 people in a gymnasium-type facility, saying that small rooms with locks would be the only way homeless people would start to trust the help they were getting. She also stated a need for safe-injection sites, moderated alcohol programs and and access to mental health services.
“Without this multi-faceted approach, a Band-Aid is going to be put on a gaping wound … so please, before a solution is presented, identify the problem. Without this first step, the solution supports someone’s hypothesis, but the solution proposed may be inaccurate.”
“I commend the churches for stepping up and providing shelter during the bitter cold of this winter. It is a stop-gag, not a solution.”
Council unanimously supported a motion, brought forward by Coun. Wayne Campbell, to endorse an overnight shelter with the idea of opening one as soon as possible, as well as to bring together organizations which help the homeless in the city so they can start better communicating their efforts between each other so resources are more widely known to the homeless community. The city will also ask the Region to help identify the numbers of homeless the city is dealing with.
You can watch Peebles' presentation here: