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Mayoral Debate on Homelessness Included Big Promises, Tough Questions, and Outrage

Written by
David King
and
and
October 14, 2022
Mayoral Debate on Homelessness Included Big Promises, Tough Questions, and Outrage
Photo credit: Clifford Skarstedt, The Examiner

The Mayoral Debate on Homelessness came at a tense time in the race for mayor. All five mayoral candidates, Henry Clarke, Victor Kreuz, Jeff Leal, Brian Lumsden, and Stephen Wright, spoke to over 170 people in-person at All Saint’s Anglican Church on Rubidge St. on October 5th, while over 700 people tuned in for the livestream event. 

Organized by All Saint’s, United Way Peterborough & District, One City Peterborough, and the Research for Social Change Lab at Trent University, the event hoped to facilitate a “reflection on ideas'’ rather than a traditional debate where candidates would challenge each other’s views. The goal of this format was to generate a solutions-based forum, while discussing these issues with the community present. 

Co-moderated by Dr. Naomi Nichols of Trent’s Research for Social Change Lab and Jim Russell of United Way, the first portion of the discussion was restricted to questions candidates were provided before the event, while the second half was devoted to inquiries from community members.

Dr. Nichols began the event with a brief illustration of homelessness and housing in Peterborough, discussing income inequality, disparities present in the community, and how these relate to the homelessness crisis. Providing experiential context to both candidates and their audience, Dr. Nichols concluded her introduction with a humanizing assertion of this situation, asking the candidates to “stop making this a liability issue.”

The first hour of this event allowed candidates to discuss each of their campaign’s positions on the following questions: 

  1. How will candidates commit to the city’s estimate of 484 new units of rent-geared-to-income supportive housing to meet the community’s needs?
  2. Do candidates support the continuation of funding for 24-hour staffing of the Overflow Shelter on Wolfe St? Why or why not? What alternatives will you work with/provide?
  3. Do you support the enforcement of tent evictions? Do you support the bylaw allowing the use of our parks as temporary encampments when shelter space is scarce, or unsafe? 
  4. How will candidates ensure low-barrier shelter service? How will they provide people in the community with a shelter bed the first night they seek it?
  5. What tone will you employ in dealing with this issue if and when you assume office? 

These questions provided grounds for candidates to discuss more than just housing. The themes of change, restoring dignity, and humanizing the community’s most vulnerable were at the forefront. Each man spoke on their respective solutions to rising costs of housing, the shelter system, and tent evictions in City parks. Big proposals included Jeff Leal declaring a state of emergency in order for the City to open up funding channels from the provincial and federal government, and calling for “immediate action to save lives in the coming winter.” 

The latter half of this event allowed audience members, both online and off, to ask general questions, such as if any candidates owned rental property, the safety of all downtown residents, and recognition of the disparity that Indigenous people face in housing and homelessness in the community. 

The biggest takeaway from this part of the forum was Brian Lumsden repeatedly coming out against harm reduction measures, much to the dismay of the in-person audience. At another point, Lumsden was hostile to a question about misinformation regarding drug use, yelling “we’ve got to take back the city!” and getting noticeably upset with the audience, who were in an uproar in response. He was later accosted outside of the event by community members in a widely-shared video.

Homelessness and housing in Peterborough is an issue with many complex, moving parts, and it will not be solved by this event alone or others like it. However, many in the community have spoken out about how the City itself has been missing from discussions of this issue, so it will be at the forefront of voters’ minds at the ballot box on October 24, and hopefully on the agenda of the new Council when they’re sworn in. 

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