Over the past month, a group known as “The Squeaky Wheel” initiated the Hydration Station in downtown Peterborough-Nogojiwanong. This project ensures that members of the public, especially those without shelter, have access to drinking water throughout the day. The station is located on the south end of millennium park, just off River Street, beside No Frills. The tent is staffed by volunteers from eight different service and faith-based organizations, supporting the Squeaky Wheel group. These volunteers take turns handing out bottled water and refilling water bottles for the community.
When the Peterborough Sports & Wellness Centre – which had been housing individuals that needed a space to stay and practice social distancing – announced its re-opening to the public, many wondered what would become of its temporary residents, who would have to leave to make space for the public to utilize the space again. The Squeaky Wheel group became increasingly concerned about what the city’s plans were in terms of providing shelter to those who needed it during the pandemic.
Those who sought emergency shelter at the Sports & Wellness Centre were able to social distance in the centre as long as they needed to and were provided three meals a day. Once the centre reopened to the public many individuals were forced to move back to temporary shelter spaces that do not ensure social distancing space, access to shelter 24/7 or more than one-to-two meals a day.
Given these circumstances, the group organized a demonstration outside of the Peterborough Public Health building about four weeks ago. Shortly following this demonstration, the City created a cooling station at the One Roof Community Centre at 99 Brock Street for those that may be affected by having to stay outside during the day. However, this cooling station is only opened on days the City declares a heat emergency.
The city also has four places where folks in the community can re-fill their reusable water bottles. However, the Squeaky Wheel group noted that most of these are inaccessible to those without reusable water bottles, and two of them are available only during limited hours throughout the week. As a result, they created the Hydration Station Project.
The group has been handing out bottles of water for the past month, with the help and support from the community and the Downtown Business Improvement Association (DBIA). Folks from DBIA have provided the Hydration Station with a tent, tables, chairs and coolers. Random Acts of Green have supplied table cloths to the group. The local No Frills supermarket has assisted in supplying bottled water and ice, Culligan Water has also helped in the supplying of bottled water, and Rocky Ridge has helped supply large jugs of water that have been used to refill water bottles.
The group has received an immense amount of support from the community and local businesses. In order to do more, they want to provide those that utilize the hydration station with reusable water bottles so that they may have access to drinking water after service hours, and to be able to cut down on the number of plastic water bottles handed out. The Hydration Station is open from 11am to 5pm, every day of the week (weather dependent). For those who are able to donate new, unused reusable water bottles, feel free to pass by the station during its operating hours and drop them off.
After speaking with the Hydration Station coordinator Gord Halsey, he mentioned that the Squeaky Wheel’s primary purpose for this project is to encourage the City to do more for marginalized groups during COVID-19, especially those that are forced to spend long hours outdoors without access to long term shelter, constant meals and easily accessible free drinking water. The group also wants the city to build more cooling centres open throughout the summer (not just on heat emergency days) that are accessible to all, and to ensure emergency shelter spaces provide 24/7 access, three meals a day, and proper social distancing for those in need.
The ultimate goal is for the City to make good on promises to provide truly affordable housing for everyone in need (no more than 30% of household gross income). This can be achieved through initiatives such as the implementation of Tiny Homes projects, and working with developers to meet the City’s Official Plan target of 10% of all new and revitalized rental housing to be truly affordable.