Lately, I have been reading the latest news and watching videos produced about the homeless crisis in Peterborough, Ontario. That we are experiencing this problem is a sad commentary on our society as a whole. We are not caring for our neighbours.

Recently, the Warming Room shut down because it lost its location at Murray Street Baptist Church. Some in our area have demonised the church for its closing forgetting that, during the last few years, this church was the only organisation that would allow the Warming Room to use its facilities. Any building will require maintenance; especially one not designed to handle the load imposed by constant overnight use.

Some have complained that Warming Room Community Ministries (WRCM) did not do enough to find a replacement site. That is false. There has been a concerted effort for many months to find a suitable permanent site for the Warming Room, without help from the city.

It seems that the City of Peterborough, publicly represented by Keith Riel and the Social Services Department, is playing politics with the homeless situation in Peterborough. Clearly, they have developed a dislike for WRCM and, for some unknown reason, seem to be attempting to bring about its failure. Perhaps they are looking for someone to do the job who will demonstrate slavish obedience to their bureaucratic rules without putting forth creative ideas for addressing the problems at hand. Certainly, the city’s organisational preferences have been made very clear by their provision of large amounts of money for Brock Mission and YES but, it seems, no assistance of any kind for WRCM in finding either a permanent or temporary location. Indeed, when WRCM found a location that, while not ideal,  would at least have provided shelter for the short term, the city refused to allow it to be used. When WRCM had no other alternative but to lay off its Warming Room staff, it was suspiciously coincidental that the city finally found a space within the public library to provide emergency shelter, but refused to use any of those highly experienced WRCM staff who had just lost their jobs. Those Warming Room staff, by the way, have since been continuing their help to the homeless as volunteers. Would any of the staff managing the space at the library do the same?

Now we find that the city may reopen bidding for the One Roof Diner.  Why is that happening? What has WRCM done wrong? Does the city have someone among their friends who believes they can do the job better?  Considering that the One Roof Diner has served more meals to those in need during its short existence than any other organization in Peterborough claims to have served in their history, it certainly appears they are doing a good job. Furthermore, the Diner has provided these meals with money from the city that comes nowhere close to full funding. The volunteer involvement at WRCM is unlikely to be matched by other organisations in Peterborough. To reopen the contract at this time appears to be malicious.
(2019-07-28: I received some new information this morning indicating that, under the city’s rules of procurement, the contract for the One Roof Diner would have to be revisited next year anyway. This still begs the question of why Mr. Riel thinks it appropriate to sound so threatening about it at this time.)

WRCM has done wonderful things for the poor and homeless in Peterborough in recent years, providing a place to stay at night and in excess of 8,000 meals a month to those in need. No other organisation in Peterborough has demonstrated the willingness or ability to do so. When providing these services, WRCM has treated each person with dignity and has tried to help them improve their life. Unlike other places, there are no searches, demeaning rules, or curfews that reduce whatever dignity people may have left.

The current tent cities that have raised the ire of so many local residents, and the sudden attention of candidates Monsef and Skinner, as well as MPP Smith, are clear evidence of the success of WRCM and the failure of local, provincial, and federal agencies to address the plight of the homeless in Peterborough and elsewhere. WRCM has been the fortress that has helped these people and minimised the indignities that now plague them in Peterborough. Now that this barrier has been breached and the problem has a public face, these current and prospective politicians are trying to score points by claiming a desire to address the problem. Perhaps one of them will follow through with their promises. In the meantime, helping WRCM to find a permanent place to go is the immediate best solution, not playing games for personal or political gain on the part of politicians and bureaucrats.

The city must cease this apparent vendetta and concentrate on helping capable organisations do what they do best. WRCM is the best at the provision of its services and should be helped, not demonised. I call upon the City of Peterborough to put aside its petulance and act in the best interests of the people of Peterborough as a whole, not just those who can afford a nice place to live.

Brian Harvey

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