Owen Sound Council ignores Housing the Homeless says reader

To the Editor:

‘What you do to the least of these, so you do to me’ is a paraphrase of Matthew 25-40.

‘The job of government is to do for those who cannot do for themselves’ is a paraphrase from FDR who actually said, “The first obligation of government is the protection of the welfare and well-being, indeed the very existence, of its citizens.”

Part 2 of the Ontario Municipal Act gives upper and lower tier governments the authority to pass bylaws respecting, among other things, the …
5. Economic, social and environmental well-being of the municipality.
6. Health, safety and well-being of persons.

But perhaps the Owen Sound City Council does not know its Bible, or the assertions of Roosevelt, or the Municipal Act. For, at its September 12th meeting it wouldn’t even answer questions about its treatment of Owen Sound’s homeless.

The question Francesca Dobbyn, Executive Director of the United Way, asked was why City Council had closed down the bandstand at night. We know the answer. Because those of us who have no place to go use it, especially when it’s raining.

But she got no answer, except a complaint from one Councillor that it was littered with dirty mattresses and that offended our visitors and their children. OK, Ray Whitfield asked, what about the residents of the City? What’s the City’s policy respecting the “least of these”?

We know the answer to that question too. It is to harry them from their encampments – out by the Health Unit, or from behind Walmart – wherever they find a bit of ground and peace.

We know the homeless pose difficulties for the towns and cities they live in. We know shelters are not the best solution – they are dangerous and alienating places. But there are responses that other cities are implementing that work. For example, Housing First initiatives stress the importance of getting the homeless into homes first and then providing social, health and welfare services.

At the Council meeting, the developers for the SkyDev development at the old RCA lands on the east shore of the harbour made a submission by Zoom. The mayor admitted they are not planning to build truly affordable housing. I think the rent they will charge is in the neighbourhood of $1800 a month. As Francesca Dobbyn pointed out, that’s way out of reach for people on Ontario Works or ODSP. It’s not even in the ballpark for the homeless.

Ironically, there was a well-heeled delegation at Council on the 12th opposing the SkyDev development, but not to help the least of us. They made a good point about Council approving such a project on the eve of an election. But to be frank, their main concern seemed to be with the nature of their new neighbours rather than with the processes of City Hall.

I left the meeting angry, I confess. This Council is visiting a cruel punishment on those of us who have fallen hard on hard times.

There is a sculpture in Toronto that took a long time to find a home. It is of a homeless Christ sleeping on a bench, the only clue to his deity the crucifixion holes in his feet. There is enough room on the bench for someone to sit and contemplate the meaning of Matthew 25. Casts of the sculpture are all over the world now, including the Vatican. But in Toronto, no one wanted it and the Homeless Christ was homeless for a long while.

Finally, the Jesuits took it in, and put it outside Regis College on Queen’s Park Circle. I would invite the Owen Sound City Council to make it a pilgrimage to sit beside this homeless man and think hard about what they are doing.

David McLaren


RMatthew 25
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Call for Federal Responsibility

Part 2 of the Ontario Municipal Act

Housing solutions and problems shared at city forum

Proposed Owen Sound developments take steps forward

Housing First in Canada

Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches