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Councillor Keith Riel and Councillor Alex Bierk discussing the bylaw amendment after council. Photo by Sebastian-Johnston Lindsay

Bierk and Riel Hopeful for Wolfe Street Housing Strategy

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
and
and
September 6, 2023
Bierk and Riel Hopeful for Wolfe Street Housing Strategy
Councillor Keith Riel and Councillor Alex Bierk discussing the bylaw amendment after council. Photo by Sebastian-Johnston Lindsay

Coming out of a closed session on September 5th, Peterborough City Council voted unanimously to temporarily amend the Parks and Facilities bylaw 19-074 and Trespass bylaw 19-075. The amendments delegate authority to the City’s Commissioner of Community Services, Sheldon Laidman, “to establish a temporary encampment within the land comprising approximately 0.7 acres at the southeast corner of Aylmer and Wolfe Streets.”

The bylaw as amended notes that the Commissioner is “delegated the authority to permit such individuals as the Commissioner may determine, to erect and to be within temporary structures, huts or tents for such time and subject to such conditions as the said Commissioner may from time to time establish” within the prescribed territory.

Commissioner Laidman confirmed following the meeting that he had invoked this bylaw change immediately following Council’s approval and would be communicating this change to bylaw enforcement and city staff in the coming days.

During a meeting of the general committee meeting held later the same day, Council received a financial update which included a breakdown of the costs of private security at encampments around the City.

Councillor Alex Bierk would later state that the fact this vote carried unanimously should be taken as a positive sign for the City as a whole. The “unity” of Council, as well as staff, and social services on this portfolio, suggests that all parties involved “want the project to have a real positive outcome” Bierk stated. 

The report outlined that estimated costs at current service levels through the end of 2023 will reach approximately $338,500, which will result in a “net additional requirement of $218,000.” The report, which was received unanimously by Councillors, suggests that these funds be taken from the Social Services Reserve Fund.

The update also noted that additional costs for services such as clean-up services are not included in the increased budget amount.

This number is $118,000 more than what this council had previously denied spending in support of a coalition of community organizations in the development of a plan and location for a shelter site for unhoused people in the City in December of 2022.

Councillor Bierk asked for clarification on when funding for private security will be viewed as something that is not an emergency. 

“Would it not be prudent, if it’s Council’s will, to make it a budgeted item somewhere so we have some control and sense of that number?” Bierk asked before asking if this number would appear during the budget talks in the Fall.  

In response, staff told Council that $950,000 has been spent on contracted security services, which includes security for City Hall, the library, and parking enforcement. At this point, however, they have been unable to determine the exact number for each type of security, noting only that this figure represents the total spent so far this year.

Following the meeting, Councillors Bierk and Keith Riel, Vice-Chair and Chair of Homelessness respectively, addressed questions from the media regarding the progress on the modular homes project at Wolfe Street. Riel stated that there were currently 41 people currently tenting at the site. 

Construction is slated to begin by September 11th, the Councillors told reporters, with completion of the project set for the middle of October. The idea of keeping those living at the site close while construction is underway is a key component to the City’s approach. 

“Our end goal is that we want the project to be successful and in the many meetings that we’ve had all summer going through the details of the project it seemed like it made sense to keep people on site,” Bierk said. 

“We’ve had social services staff and agencies on the ground working with folks that are in the camp,” he continued. “We made shelter available at the Brock mission and at the overflow, as well as keeping the great majority of the people…like yards away from where they are.”  

When asked about the specifics surrounding stop-gap shelter being set up with One City, and how that informs the City’s winter strategy, Riel was reluctant to provide details beyond noting that by devoting space to agencies to work from at the Wolfe Street shelter they are hoping to help more people who might otherwise end up in hospital. 

“We acknowledge that people that are unhoused are dealing with a great number of medical conditions that aren’t being met,” Bierk explained. “We have a doctor shortage in the Peterborough area and people that are unhoused have very complex medical needs. We’re hoping that some of the structure that we’re bringing to Wolfe Street will include [medical supports].”

Riel also confirmed that following the completion of the modular homes, tenting would not be allowed at the Wolfe Street site, noting the planned increases in shelter space at both the Brock Mission. According to Riel, those who are currently tenting at other sites around the City would be directed towards existing shelter space and not towards the approved site for tents at Wolfe and Alymer.

“We have made provisions on this piece of property to take the people that were tenting on Wolfe Street not enticing more people to come,” Riel told reporters. “There are spaces for people to go in our shelter system, if they are on the By Name Priority List they will be looked after by our staff.”

While the bylaw amendment was enacted during a Special Council Meeting on September 5th, the recommendation around the additional funding for encampment security will be ratified at the next Council meeting on September 25th.

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