The following statement is being issued on behalf of John Henry, Regional Chair and Chief Executive Officer, and Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter:
“Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many cities and towns have witnessed an increase of mental health challenges, addictions and housing needs among residents, while local businesses also face additional unprecedented challenges. In Durham Region, these issues are particularly prevalent in the City of Oshawa.
We have acknowledged concerns from residents, Oshawa downtown businesses, organizations and visitors regarding concerning activities in the downtown, homelessness, mental health and addictions, as well as economic development concerns directly related to these complex issues, and that more action is needed. The Regional Municipality of Durham—which is responsible for social services, community housing, public health and police services—is partnering with the City of Oshawa to address these complex social issues.
We are working diligently to ensure all residents feel safe and supported and have convened a senior staff Task Force to address the immediate issues happening in downtown Oshawa. This Task Force consists of representatives from Durham Region Social Services, Durham Region Health Department, Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS), Lakeridge Health and the City of Oshawa.
The Task Force is currently reviewing the concentrated support services offered by the Region and community partners; identifying gaps and duplication of services and taking steps to help all involved. As a first step, we are creating a Community Code of Conduct for recipients of support services and developing a Street Outreach and Encampment Strategy for Durham Region.
Other immediate actions include:
- Prioritizing street, park and private property clean up.
- Working closely with Lakeridge Health on addiction and treatment services through a street outreach team.
- Developing an updated local opioid response plan, including reviewing needle distribution.
- Continuing DRPS proactive presence.
- Proactive enforcement of property standards by-laws.
- Working with community agencies to reinforce our commitment to being a housing-focused community by expanding housing first initiatives.
- Supporting the City of Oshawa’s work with businesses and residents.
- Regular updates on our collective actions taken to end chronic homelessness in Durham by 2024.
- Reviewing support services offered by the Region and community partners to identify service gaps.
The City and the Region have been addressing these unique challenges, including allocating funding, resources and staffing. The City and the Region have met and continue to meet individually with residents and businesses to provide support and advocate on their behalf regarding their health and safety concerns.
Planning is underway at the City to develop a revitalization strategy for downtown Oshawa and to continue expanding public art and civic pride initiatives. The Region plans to open the Oshawa Micro-Homes Pilot Project and complete its Community Safety and Well-Being Plan to address priority risk factors with strategies and measurable outcomes.
In addition, the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Safety, Security and Well-Being was formed to identify and propose opportunities to address community safety, security and well-being issues facing the City of Oshawa.
These initiatives will build on the work that the Region is already doing to support people experiencing homelessness. This year, we have helped create more than 100 new housing opportunities for our By-Name List and are on track to exceed that amount in the coming year. In addition, the Primary Care Outreach Program (PCOP) provides ongoing medical help and mental health counselling to more than 440 clients across the region annually.
The Region works alongside municipalities, the province and the federal government to ensure that Durham Region continues to grow, and our residents and businesses continue to thrive. As such, the Region and the City are engaging provincial and federal representatives to help advocate for additional support because these complex issues cannot be addressed by municipalities alone—we need strong partners.
The Region and the City have called on all federal party leaders and Durham Region candidates this federal election; the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair; the Premier; and provincial representatives to tour downtown Oshawa. The purpose of the tour is to gain a better understanding of the complexity of homelessness, mental health and addiction and the impact on our community. The Region and the City of Oshawa have offered to co-ordinate the tours in September and work together on constructive solutions, as this cannot be solved without support and direction from our federal and provincial partners.
We are a Region that stands with all of our communities when faced with challenges. We will ensure our communities are healthy, safe and happy for all.”
- The Regional Municipality of Durham’s Social Services Department has six divisions committed to delivering professional and high-quality services. Many residents will need one or more of these services at some point in their life. Our department’s principles of care, excellence, learning and leadership are the foundation of our programs and services.
- Durham’s Homelessness Support & Coordinated Access System is a collective of organizations and support services that work together to help address and eliminate barriers to access safe and affordable housing. The Coordinated Access System helps people experiencing homelessness to access services based on their individualized needs; the alternative is helping on a first-come, first-served basis, which means those able to better navigate the support system get help first, not necessarily those who need it most.
- The Region’s By-Name List is a list of people, by name, who are experiencing homelessness in Durham. This list provides access to real-time data to help better address peoples’ needs and track milestones on the journey to ending homelessness. The By-Name List was created as part of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness’s Built for Zero Canada campaign, which is a nation-wide effort to end chronic homelessness.
- Shelters in Durham region are housing-focused, which means they are focused on helping people move from homelessness to housing as quickly as possibly by supporting people with their housing plans.
- Durham Region’s Master Housing Strategy aims to improve affordability and access to housing, while highlighting priorities in At Home in Durham, the Durham Housing Plan 2014-2024. Priorities include affordable rent, greater housing choice, strong and vibrant neighbourhoods and ending chronic homelessness.
- Durham Region helped create more than 100 new housing opportunities in 2021 for our By-Name List by expanding successful models and adding new Housing-First Teams across Durham, developing new spaces from capital projects targeted to support Durham’s Coordinated Access System, and launching the Landlord Engagement pilot to increase partnerships and support for landlords renting to clients from Durham’s By-Name List.
- From January to May 2021, the Region’s services and supports helped 577 people with eviction prevention and helped 556 people find housing.
- Durham Region received $10.3 million in funding through the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) – Cities Stream to create an estimated 41 new affordable homes for individuals and families. These housing units will support Canadians who are in uncertain housing situations, experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, or living in temporary shelters because of the pandemic.