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The encampment outside the Wolfe Street overflow shelter, shown here on November 24th, 2022, was a divisive talking point during the 2023 budget talks. Councillor Alex Bierk's motion for $200,000 to be allocated for increased staffing at the shelter will help those living in shelters and adjacent encampments access services. Photo: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

Councillor Alex Bierk's Motion for $200,000 for Shelter Staff Successful During Budget Talks

Written by
David King
and
and
February 6, 2023
Councillor Alex Bierk's Motion for $200,000 for Shelter Staff Successful During Budget Talks
The encampment outside the Wolfe Street overflow shelter, shown here on November 24th, 2022, was a divisive talking point during the 2023 budget talks. Councillor Alex Bierk's motion for $200,000 to be allocated for increased staffing at the shelter will help those living in shelters and adjacent encampments access services. Photo: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

Peterborough City Council has approved a motion  to increase funding to The Brock Mission for its Overflow Shelter to hire a third worker to provide referrals to services, assist with housing searches, and allow the Overflow to further support homeless individuals in the community overall. This comes alongside a number of other homelessness initiatives approved for increase or greenlighted by council, such as the City’s acquisition of a rent-geared-to-income townhouse from the Peterborough Housing Corporation for three homeless individuals on Denne Crescent. 

The 2023 Budget deliberations came to a close on the evening of January 18th, 2023 after a two-week process of additions, deletions, and much deliberation over every line of the budget for the year. Councillors had worked since January 9th to review every portion of the proposed budget, which was adopted by Council on January 30th.

In light of Council’s unanimous decision to not hire a DBIA System Navigator to assist the homeless in navigating services, a proposal worth $165,000 over three years, Town Ward Councillor Alex Bierk motioned for the funds for this particular expenditure to be moved to the hire of a third worker at the Brock Mission’s Overflow Shelter on Wolfe Street. This expense would come from the Social Services Reserve as opposed to the other funding avenues available to the city to address the housing and homelessness crisis. 

This follows one of the Alternative Options presented in the Homelessness Budget Recommendations. The report specifically notes that the Brock Overflow Shelter “remains necessary and is a critical part of the City’s homeless system of services” based upon its frequent use and the increasing complexity of those seeking support and services.

This motion also shows Council addressing a lack of resources within these spaces, a concern primarily voiced by advocates and shelter workers within the community. This alternative acknowledges “that shelter staff are stretched and must focus on providing only the basic service and are not able to provide additional services to clients.” 

Currently, there are only two workers on-site at the Wolfe Street shelter providing services, with Bierk expressing concern on the 16th over the safety of these workers, especially in an understaffed environment serving a vulnerable population. This option would begin to address the precariousness surrounding the thirty-two bed shelter, with the Wolfe Street site also hosting a sizable tent city on its outside perimeter. 

The report expounds on the benefits of the proposed increase, citing that funding the hiring of a third worker would “provide better referrals to services and assist with housing searches, develop more of a harm-reduction focus, address service restrictions differently, and other functions.” This particular motion to amend passed 8-3, with votes against from Northcrest Councillors Dave Haacke and Andrew Beamer, alongside Otonabee Councillor Lesley Parnell.

With programming increases already included in this budget, alongside further approval for a 5.7% increase in homelessness funding which keeps the Wolfe Street shelter open overnight only until April, this motion in particular signals a step in the right direction for the City’s attempts to address the homelessness crisis and surrounding concerns. However, this motion didn’t pass without some lively pushback. Voting against this increase were Councillors Haacke, Parnell,  Beamer,Otonabee Councillor Kevin Duguay, and Monaghan Councillor Don Vassiliadis. With Beamer, in particular, speaking out against keeping the Wolfe Street shelter open for such an extended period. He cites how many neighbours to the shelter and the encampment are unhappy with a proposed permanent presence without little public consultation.

"Clearly the situation is not working. I cannot support a permanent shelter on Wolfe Street," Beamer said. Beamer voted for the measure initially two weeks before the confirmation of the budget, whereafter he told the Examiner he’d voted that way in error at the time, but noted that his vote in particular, would not have changed the passage of this motion. 

Since joining Council, Bierk has been the most vocal advocate in City Hall on this issue, as a big portion of his platform that contributed to his election as Councillor for Town Ward was based on his intimate advocacy on the homelessness crisis, and he certainly did not shy away from speaking on this portfolio on January 30th. 

In the midst of the discussion surrounding homelessness, Bierk stated that the city has “a punitive approach,” speaking to how this approach has actually aggravated the situation and created a level of precariousness that fuels the worst of this issue. He spoke about how City Hall could fund this expenditure better, vocally disagreeing with the limiting of hours at the Overflow Shelter and how the City does indeed have the resources to keep the overflow open 24/7, but instead choosing not to.  

"What do you think happens when we do that?” Bierk said on the floor. “The shelter becomes the library." 

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