Letter comes only weeks after province significantly increased annual support and committed $62,314,200 over next three years to help address homelessness in Niagara. Pictured are co-signatories NDP MPP for St. Catharines Jennie Stevens (left) and Ward 4 city councillors Robin McPherson (top right) and Caleb Ratzlaff. Photo credit: Facebook/Jennie Stevens and City of St. Catharines
Speaking at Niagara Region’s public health and social services committee last Tuesday, Mayor of St. Catharines Mat Siscoe painted a bleak picture of a downtown core that has become a hellscape of open drug abuse, public fornication, defecation, and violence.
MPP for St. Catharines Jennie Stevens and Siscoe’s Ward 4 colleagues on St. Catharines City Council Robin McPherson and Caleb Ratzlaff were moved enough by the mayor’s report that earlier this week they, alongside representatives from the city’s downtown BIA and a local church, penned an open letter to Premier Doug Ford regarding the situation.
In the letter, MPP Stevens and the two St. Catharines councillors praise the “vibrancy” of their city’s downtown, invite the premier to tour the area, and beseech the province for “emergency funding”.
Like Mayor Siscoe, Stevens et al. conclude that adequate, affordable housing, more than anything, is the primary solution to St. Catharines’ problems.
“It is important to emphasize that the support we need is for holistic support that emphasizes affordable housing, not just for addictions and mental health support,” the letter reads. “The homelessness crisis is complex and can only be addressed through a holistic and comprehensive plan that will not leave anyone behind.”
“Individuals cannot not receive rehabilitation services, unless they are housed first.”
Despite talk of “work[ing] together” and a claim that the signatories “wholeheartedly echo… the call for support from all levels of government”, the letter itself is addressed only to Premier Ford.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for whatever reason, is not an addressee. Nor, for that matter, is Niagara Regional Chair Jim Bradley.
Why Stevens, McPherson, and Ratzlaff chose to single out the premier is not made clear in the correspondence, however, it’s an odd choice seeing as the Ford government is the only government of late to offer something substantive to help combat homelessness in Niagara.
In fact, the Ford government just recently provided precisely what Stevens et al. ask for in their letter.
A mere five weeks ago in Niagara Falls, flanked by the regional chair and Stevens’ own NDP caucus colleague Wayne Gates, PC MPP for Niagara West Sam Oosterhoff announced a massive funding boost from the province to address local homelessness.
Niagara was granted $20,771,400 annually for the next three years to combat the issue – representing an 86 per cent, or $9.6 million, yearly increase.
Provided through Ontario’s Homelessness Prevention Program, the $62,314,200 in funding can be used by local governments for exactly what the trio of local officials said was necessary both in their letter and subsequent social media posts.
Again, why Stevens, McPherson, Ratzlaff and their other two co-signatories chose Premier Ford as the sole recipient of their communique is unknown. Especially considering that the federal government currently has over $82 billion earmarked as part of its National Housing Strategy.
The strategy has six “priority areas for action”, one of which is Housing for Those in Greatest Need, which includes “people experiencing homelessness” and “people dealing with mental health and addiction issues”.
Even if not direct funding, it’s not known why the two St. Catharines city councillors and Opposition MPP didn’t call on the Trudeau government to at least better allocate or enhance allocation of funds to the provinces so that they could then help build more affordable housing and address the homelessness issue.
Better cooperation from the federal government in regard to funding affordable housing efforts is something Canada’s provinces and territories have been collectively calling for as recently as March.
Of note, the usually vocal Liberal MP for St. Catharines Chris Bittle has been noticeably silent across his social media platforms regarding calls for support from the various elected officials of varying levels of governments in his riding.