Category Archives: Regional Councillor Jane Mitchell's Blog

Region of Waterloo Ontario Councillor Jane Mitchell comments on Regional Issues.

It’s Christmas! How about those Homeless Addicts.

It’s Christmas! Just tonight CTV showed schoolkids doling out soup to the homeless and addicts at the soup kitchen. However, you would never know the time of year by the people writing to me and to Facebook about the possibility of a safe injection site in Waterloo Region, particularly Galt.

The worst I saw was a post on Facebook with a picture of a man having a seizure in a Galt mini-mart. The poster was angry that he dare to be homeless and a drug addict and collapsing in a public place. Particularly disturbing to me, as the wife, mother and grandmother of people who have epilepsy and, while controlled, could have a seizure anywhere.

I understand that people in Cambridge are upset after a little boy ended up pricked by a needle left in a park. I understand people suffering from mental illness can seem scary. Writing to your council telling them you want the House of Friendship to not open a new house to support recovering addicts, you want the Bridges closed and all people who seem to be addicts or homeless removed from your community is too much.

Public Health is conducting a survey on opinions concerning Safe Injection Sites for the provincial government. The Region of Waterloo has not yet had any report on this and certainly we have not had any suggestions on where this site would be or even what it would look like. Thank you to the people who have suggested also having help, whether mental or social services, available for people using the site.

Right now no one knows what drugs contain deadly fentanyl. Recently a 14 year old boy died from one mistake. Injecting drugs is only a small part of the drug problem. Some say safe injection sites can stop needles from being left in parks and secluded areas.  People using needles will not stop using them. Clean needles are given out to stop the sharing of needles which spreads hepatitis and AIDS.

For many years, Downtown Kitchener had the overwhelming majority of services for the poor and the lost, as council always heard from Mayor Carl Zehr. Now Waterloo has second stage housing for homeless men, women and children and Cambridge has the Bridges.  All homeless need a permanent home, not being driven from city to city. Many addicts have underlying mental problems

Every drug addict and homeless person is someone’s family and friend. I remember when a well known Kitchener homeless man died, his family sent donuts to the Kitchener police to thank them for their help.

It’s Christmas. A couple of weeks ago I attended a regular Sunday service at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. I had walked up two quiet rain washed blocks from the subway stop by Central Park to the side of the cathedral. Two homes made of cardboard, blankets and a tarp snuggled between the buttresses  that held up the church. I walked past and around the corner and attended the service.

Sitting among the members of the church was a man with dirty hair and shabby clothes, obviously homeless, yet obviously accepted by the congregation. After the service, I passed the cardboard and tarps as I headed back to the subway.  One of the “homes” was empty. It seemed it belonged to the grubby man in the cathedral.

Are we going to be like the congregation of St John the Divine Cathedral and accept those in difficulty or are we only going to reject them and make the problem worse?

Here are some links:

Waterloo Region Drug Strategy

Safe Injection Site Survey

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A Tour of Social Housing in Rome Created in the Early 20th Century

(If you are looking for my paper on cleaning up the Grand, protection of local aquifers and the Regional Plan, as mentioned in the Record, scroll down, it is the fourth entry.)

At the International Making Cities Liveable Conference, I was pleased to tour the Housing Districts of Testaccio and San Saba with Ettore Maria Mazzola, Architect & Urbanist, Professor, University of Notre Dame, Rome Global Gateway. Ettore Maria Mazzola has also acted as a consultant for the Mayor and City of Rome. As a member of the new Housing Master Plan Committee, this area will be on my mind as we decide how to create and improve social housing in Waterloo Region.

Similar to Waterloo Region today, the City of Rome, Italy exploded in population between the unification of Italy (1861) and 1930. The population of the city of Rome increased from 200.000 to 1.200.000. Most of the people came from rural villages in Italy.  this created a shortage of housing. It was decided that the area around the artificial Testaccio hill would be used to create housing for the poor. In antiquity the area was a dump for broken amphorae and in later times an area for butchering and tanning.  The area of San Saba was also developed.

The municipal government of the Rome of the time owned and built this social housing. Instead of creating a slum, Roman architects such as Gustavo Giovannoni, Quadrio Pirani, Giulio Magni, and Innocenzo Sabbatini developed a new way of creating housing integrating a mix of uses. They were able to harmonize “the construction of large volumes” with “a proper scale that does not harm the landscape”, as well as “the necessity to build rapidly” with “respect for the human dignity of the future residents”.

These neighbourhoods create a good example for the “new urbanism” with density and mixed use. Some of the housing complexes had bicycle rooms and bake ovens. Each development was built with a central courtyard to remind the residents of their homes in the hill villages.

Maria Montessori created the first daycare or early learning center in this area. The concept of free play and learning by choice instead of strict rows and rote started here.

Today this social housing has gentrified and is no longer home to the poor. It is still a beautiful example of housing.

Stay tuned for public consultations on Region of Waterloo social housing  in the coming months. As can be seen by the pictures below, just building more affordable housing, while laudable, isn’t enough. We must also build liveable communities.

 

How one man’s creative, coherent view transformed social housing in interwar Rome

Specific Interesting Photos of the Housing.

bicyclestorage

Door to an original bicycle storage

firestation

Fire station

montessori

One of the original Maria Montessori Preschools for the poor

socialhousinginrome

Early 20th century social housing

socialhousinginrome1

Early 20th century social housing

socialhousinginrome2

Bake house

socialhousinginrome3

Housing built around a piazza to remind residents of their villages

socialhousinginrome6

Piazza in the center of the housing complex

socialhousinginrome7

Windows of different sizes to visually break up the wall

When they Go Low, We Say No!

By Guest Blogger Mary Ann, who left Canada to march in Washington

When the American election happened, I was so shocked and so was my sister.  Right afterwashingtonmarch the election there was an overwhelming feeling that we must do something. Because when the American elephant rolls over, the Canadian mouse can get crushed.

On the 17th of November, we booked our hotel room.We looked for buses and people were already booking buses. It was an organic and grassroots movement, no official organizers at that time. There were 7 buses going from Franklin Maryland so that’s where we booked. Everything was moving marywashingtonby the 17th.

I had to do something with women. The election was a slap to my whole sense of being a woman. That the most qualified woman lost to a clown. Women suddenly began to tell their stories. One man on our bus came because for the first time his wife told him her stories, the sexism that had happened to her in her life. We all began to tell our husbands and friends what has happened to us in our lives.

busandmarchBefore Christmas, they were trying to stop the march, I felt, saying women couldn’t get the permits, couldn’t use the Mall. It was a moment of faith, we all went anyway. Women showed up individually not part of the “official” march. They weren’t the leaders, women just came. It wasn’t about the celebrities, most couldn’t hear them. Women came from all over the states.

I was too young to burn my bra. To get to 57 and never been on a march. Most of the women had never been on a march or political ever. A lot were marching for their dead mothers. I felt letdown as a woman and I needed to gather.

We found out we were not alone! A million, yes it was a million, got off their asses and marched in Washington and millions more knitted hats, sat in coffee shops and cheered. Millions more marched in cities around the world.

You didn’t know everyone was going to wear the pussy hats but everyone did and everyone had a handmade sign.

Marchers were stunned and grateful we came from Canada. They were terrified when they found out that Canadians were turned away at the border. They then knew that bad things were happening already.

A Metro staff member started to cry when she found out that we came to support American women. She said, “I’m black, female and gay. I’m the one they hate.”

Women on the bus were amazed that I was once a school trustee. I told them they have to fill  all the positions: council, trustees, sheriff, and then  move on to the higher offices.  That’s what the Republicans have done. Make sure the person is electable. When I told them about our popular Canadian Sikh defense minister, they were shocked that could happen. They all love Justin Trudeau.

This march shows us what’s possible in Waterloo Region, in Canada, in America, all over the world. This is the Women’s uprising, like the Arab Spring. Now I will do something.

Homelessness and Housing. The First of My Five Priorities for the Next Term of Regional Council.

My pledge: I will work to get funding to build more homes for the homeless with supports. I will continue to work on the building and repair of affordable housing.

 

I went to my daughter’s apartment at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to pick her up for her 25 km run at Pinehurst. (The Run for the Toad). I stepped into her apartment vestibule and there were two teen-age girls sleeping on the floor. One of them woke up when I began to dial my daughter’s apartment.

I said,”There are shelters you can go to. They have space.”

The girl said,” It’s full.”

I said, “If you ask there should be a motel room available if everything is full.”

I could see she was considering that.

On our way to Pinehurst, I said to my daughter that maybe this was their first night homeless but she pointed out that they smelled, so had probably been homeless for awhile. My daughter lives near Victoria Park and while she is sympathetic to the homeless, particularly teen-age girls, she doesn’t want them sleeping on the floor in her vestibule. Especially when we are now supposed to have enough shelter beds.

We were also concerned because not all of the men and teen-aged boys hanging around in the park are people those girls should associate with.

Another Out of the Cold site closed this past week. That makes 5 of the 7 volunteer-run church sites closed. Fortunately, the YWCA and Mary’s Place has stepped up with a 50 cot temporary location in a community room.I should point out that Out of the Cold opens on November 1st but there are shelter beds.

What can we do about homelessness?

The Homeless Hub website says the following about homelessness:

Ending homelessness means doing things differently, and not simply managing the problem through emergency services and supports such as shelters and soup kitchens. When people come to depend on emergency services without access to permanent housing and necessary supports, this leads to declining health and well-being, and most certainly an uncertain future.

When I was a librarian at a public library, we always had the homeless sitting in the library and looking at the newspapers. Shelters close in the day, other places only open for meals.

The best way to help the homeless is to get them a home, often with supports.

There are two types of homeless. First those who are temporarily homeless: teenagers kicked out of their home, men without a home due to family problems or job loss, mothers and children homeless due to domestic violence, evicted families. While not easy situations, these people can be helped to find new homes. Those under threat of eviction can go to the rent bank or other programs. This does not mean that we have enough affordable or supportive housing for all who need it, we don’t, but progress is being made.

The next group is those with mental health or addiction problems that are hard to serve. They may not want to go to a shelter for various reasons. I saw two men sleeping in an ATM vestibule as I passed by from attending an event the other night. What do we do?

We need more outreach workers to help the hard to house. We need, as always, when the problem is the least of our people: more supports, more mental health and addictions programs, nore housing with supports.  It is worth the cost.

A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote “Million Dollar Murray” about a homeless man who used up paramedic, police and  hospital resources at a tremendous rate. The people who run Supportive Housing of Waterloo have proof that the number of emergency calls surrounding some of their permanently housed homeless have dropped. The people now have supportive workers in their building that they can interact with.

Obviously, I am running on continuing the work that the Region of Waterloo is doing to build more affordable housing.  The Region, the Province and the Feds must work together to help house the chronic homeless. We also need to repair the housing built in the 60s,  70s and 80s that is now reaching the end of its life. New housing or rent subsidies for those in need of affordable housing are also needed, although the region is in the forfront compared to other cities in the province.

AS shown by Million Dollar Murray, it actually costs us less in the long run to help people.

Food Deserts and Food Swamps

Food Deserts (Not desserts!)

Imagine riding a bus for an hour to get to a supermarket to buy fresh fresh fruit and vegetables. This happens in the low income centers of a number of American cities and is called a food desert.  A few years ago, Waterloo Region Public Health and Foodlink tried out a pilot project that located temporary farmers’ markets in various neighbourhoods, many low income, throughout

Preston Towne Market

Preston Towne Market

Waterloo Region. The ones at St. Mary’s hospital and the Preston Towne Square come to mind. The pilots were not continued for various reasons, except for the market at Preston Towne Square which has grown in popularity over the years. It should be noted that supermarkets do exist in Preston, it is not a food desert.

Food Swamps (Includes desserts!)

Which leads to the interesting NEWPATH report on Diet and Food Environment Findings presented at Community Services yesterday. The Region participated in a project from three universities that analyzed 1,334 retail food establishments and 1,170 individuals from 690 households in Waterloo Region in 2009.

People kept two day food diaries and the researchers  looked at what kind of food establishments were near the individuals. The study participants had a range of income, walkability from their home and number of occupants. They reported their weight, height and waist circumference.

The study found that the availability of healthy versus unhealthy food influences our eating behaviors and and health outcomes. An extremely small proportion of residents in Waterloo Region eat a good diet, .3%. The percent for Canada is .5% so we are slightly worse. But everyone is truly bad! No wonder overweight and obesity is an epidemic.

The researchers found that the vegetables and fruit in Regional retail food establishments are of excellent quality and that Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo, rather than gaps in access to healthy food (food desserts), have an overabundance of unhealthy food and beverages (food swamps). We are swamped with bad food and beverages.

Within one kilometre of study participants’homes:

There were five times as many convenience stores and fast food outlets as grocery stores and specialty stores.

There was over three times as much shelf space dedicated to energy dense snack food (chips and candy for instance) as compared to shelf space for vegetables and fruit. 

Convenience stores were on average 521 meters away, fast food outlets 582m and grocery stores 1001m away.

  Food stores with fruits and veggies close in price to junk food had less fat people living nearby. Those who shop at health and specialty stores were less impacted by price.

Food Deserts Versus Food Swamps

The study showed that in Waterloo Region, people do have access to healthy food and we do not have food deserts. However the results of the study suggest that exposure to unhealthy food is associated with poor diet. Also if healthy foods are priced the same or lower than unhealthy foods, they are likely to be purchased.  The current environment in the region is a food swamp, an overabundance of poor nutritional choices.

What can we do?

It is a strange thing to purchase medications to control obesity induced diseases then walk down an aisle filled with junk food and beverages to visit a cashier surrounded by chocolate bars for sale. Pharmacies gave up cigarettes, shouldn’t they also think about the selling of junk food? Parents across the region would thank our stores for removing junk food from the check out area.

Public Health will explore improving the affordability of healthy food and  beverages with such ideas as zoning by-laws, recreation centres, and healthy corner stores.

Temporary Food Markets

This brings me back to the temporary farmers’ markets. I asked the presenter if temporary food markets are  necessary since we don’t have food deserts, we have food swamps. She said that actually, they are still a good idea as long as the food is comparable in price to the junk food. Interestingly, this was one of the reasons given for a failure of the temporary food market pilots in low income areas.

The City of Waterloo has a Thursday evening market in Uptown that has become quite successful and of course bargains are to be had at the St. Jacob’s

St. Jacob's Market

St. Jacob’s Market still buzzing the Thursday after the Fire last year.

Market, Cambridge Market, Elmira Market, Kitchener Market and Preston Market (and how lucky we are to have these permanent farmers’ markets!) The City of Waterloo has just passed revised licensing by-laws and farmers’ markets are under flea markets with licenses valid at a particular location for 90 days on private property and 6 months on city property, and require public health approval. (Thanks Councillor Jeff Henry for this info)

The Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable is asking municipal candidates their opinion on zoning for temporary farmers’markets. The Roundtable wants broad zoning so the markets can pop up anywhere. Some candidates have privately told me they wonder if that is too broad. In any case, public meetings are coming up in the next year in Waterloo.

Temporary markets might help with locations for the strawberry trucks and corn sellers who park on the side of the road, sometimes causing traffic problems. Finally, after my questions in committee, Mary Ann Wasilka a citizen who was a delegation on another topic yesterday, sent me an interesting article about fruit and vegetable carts in New York city, basically pop-up vegetable stalls. They are for the poor in food deserts but they could be fun in the parking lots of our food swamps.

NEWPATH Research Project — Diet and Food Environment Findings. on page 24 of the Community Services Committee Agenda of August 12, 2014.

Food Spaces, Vibrant Places Campaign

Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable

Foodlink.ca

Urban Agriculture in Vancouver

A hydroponic garden sits on the top of a parking garage. A farm covers a parking lot beside a raised highway. Urban Farming was one of the most interesting study tours at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Vancouver in June.

The tour started off with a local community garden beside a school. Most of the plots were cultivated by aboriginal students at the school. Having a plot in the Sunnydale community garden, I knew about this form of  urban farming. Most interesting was the comment from one of the councillors on the tour that her city’s community gardens have barbed wire on top of the fences. Hope we never go that far. Our chicken wire fences are to keep out bunnies, though not raccoons or squirrels as I have discovered.

Beside the garden sat a transport truck trailer. A similar trailer sat beside the urban farm we visited. I asked what they were, thinking they might hold supplies for the gardens and farms, though pretty big. Turns out the trailers are located throughout Vancouver and hold several days worth of emergency supplies for citizens in case of earthquake.

Solefood Urban Farm

Solefood Urban Farm on a parking lot in Vancouver

The urban farm on a parking lot is located near the Rogers Arena. The land is owned by a developer and could eventually become condos. The farm is portable, all the beds raised just above the asphalt of the parking lot. The farm workers are recovering drug addicts, the mentally ill or homeless. The produce is sold at farmers’ markets and restaurants. Solefood, the organization that runs the farm has several throughout Vancouver though this is the largest. They have also started a fruit orchard on contaminated land with the trees in containers.

Hydroponic farm

Hydroponic farm on top of a parking garage

The hydroponic farm on the top of a parking garage shows what happens when a city moves away from car dominance. The farm grows hydroponic greens for local markets and restaurants. The farm is not yet quite breaking even. No, it doesn’t grow any of B.C.s other hydroponic crop.

One of our group asked how they paid their rent as normally each car space in a car park is pretty profitable real estate. The owner said that in fact, parking garages in Vancouver are often half empty as people take transit and don’t use their car to get to work. It was true, as we walked back down, the car park was half empty.

Our bus driver said this is because parking is so expensive in Vancouver but a glance at the Metro parking website shows parking costing about a dollar an hour, less than Toronto or even Kitchener. Another article said the maximum for on street parking is 6 dollars an hour.  Toronto is around 5.50 an hour, but I have parked for less in lots.

The ease of biking is also blamed for the decline in car use. There are separate lanes for bicycles as my husband found out in Stanley Park when he was yelled at for standing in a cycling lane. We found a pedestrian walk beside the sea and quickly moved there.

There is also a 12 percent tax on the sale of used vehicles.  The ease of using the Skytrain and transit is listed as a cause of the decline in cars. Certainly we didn’t even use a taxi in Vancouver, using transit and walking to get to our destinations.

Here is an article about Vancouver’s decrease in car use.