North Huron residents complain about Wingham Connection Centre
BY DENNY SCOTT
Two residents took significant issue to the proposed United Way Perth-Huron Connection Centre proposed for St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Wingham, citing community safety concerns.
During North Huron Township Council’s Oct. 3 meeting, William Wallace and Jeff Ashcroft told council they were frustrated with the decision and felt it wasn’t appropriate.
In a letter addressed to council, the two requested that North Huron Town Council “add [its] voice to a review of the proposed site, located at 19 John Street East and review the concerns of neighbouring property owners.
“This centre, to be opened as soon as construction can be completed in 2022 (proposed) is being portrayed as [a] drop-in centre offering showers, laundry facilities, food and food bank access, legal and social counseling, and assistance with finding permanent affordable and safe housing,” the two wrote.
Aside from concerns regarding the youth of the community, given the fact that the church is on a road that goes towards the school, as well as neighbours, the two were upset that the proposed site was announced at a Wingham Business Improvement Area (BIA) meeting, and not told to council or residents first.
The two said other such centres are in communities with OPP detachments. The duo said the lack of a permanent police presence could lead to increased risk near the centre as its users “are experiencing [a] lack of permanent housing, and mental health challenges of varying degree and severity”.
Finally, the two felt that the United Way and the church should submit a plan of security and safety for North Huron citizens and “the township of Wingham”.
Reeve Bernie Bailey asked staff if any bylaws had been broken by the organizations involved, including Choices for Change, that will be running the centre, the United Way or the church.
Huron County Planner Hanna Homan, who was at the meeting to address other issues, said that, from a zoning and bylaw perspective, the use is permitted on the site, which is zoned as a community facility. She said that, not only is it permitted, but, because no zoning changes are required, there’s no public notice required.
Clerk Carson Lamb also weighed in, later in the meeting, when Councillor Kevin Falconer asked if the issue should have been brought to council.
“The short answer is no,” Lamb said. “The only reason [the United Way] came to council in the first place was they were looking for a donation. As long as it’s compliant with the zoning, council would not need to interact with the initiative whatsoever. Staff might interact with it if they require a building permit, but if it’s a permitted use, we wouldn’t… see anything at council.”
Wallace said that council should be briefed on such initiatives, suggesting the future council should make that change.
Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip said he has sent the question about police responses to the OPP and said he would relay any answer given to council and the public.
Councillor Anita van Hittersum shared the pair’s concerns, comparing the centre to a cannabis store, which needs to follow bylaws and regulations and adhere to strict setbacks. She said she believes in taking care of the people who would need the facility, but was frustrated by the lack of communication from the United Way.
Bailey said the announcement being made that way wasn’t how the United Way wanted to make it. He said someone attached to the project discussed it at the BIA before the proper time, and this caught the United Way’s staff off guard as much as it did anyone else.
“The original plan was to discuss this and bring it forward,” he said. “The United Way was not doing anything behind anyone’s back.”
Wallace said the information coming out was “very bad optics” and even if it wasn’t nefarious, the fact that “public funds [had been] handed to an entity without some kind of summary of what they’re being used for” was wrong.
Bailey said the municipality knew what the funds were for, but at the time the United Way was working on several locations.
Council directed staff to prepare a report based on the forthcoming response from the OPP, Choices for Change and the United Way Perth-Huron regarding impacts to policing or public safety.