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City extends Welcoming Street pilot

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By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The City of Oshawa recently announced an extension of the Welcoming Streets Initiative pilot project.

The Welcoming Streets pilot, approved by council in September 2019, is a collaborative effort between the city, CAREA Community Health Centre, and the Downtown Oshawa BIA to help the homeless.

The program includes an outreach worker responsible for improving relationships between Oshawa's homeless population and business owners. It was inspired by a partnership in Guelph called the Guelph Welcoming Streets Initiative, involving the city, the County of Wellington, the local BIA and community health centre, and the police department.

Since its inception, Oshawa has seen the Welcoming Streets team interact with more than 550 unsheltered residents, which has resulted in more than 200 referrals to support agencies. The pilot has also seen 250 participants in workshops, and has visited more than 400 businesses around the city.

The city initially contributed $50,224, and will now contribute an additional $120,087 to keep the program running until Dec. 31.

Ward 4 City and Regional Councillor Rick Kerr tells The Express Welcoming Streets is a "positive" for Oshawa's downtown.

Kerr reflects back to a cold winter day when he and Mayor Dan Carter met with the Welcoming Streets team and did a walking tour of the downtown south of King Street.

He says they looked at some sites and saw some issues, and then went south and west of the Tribute Communities Centre to speak to a store owner. They then went to speak to a community lawyer having issues around his property before going back to city hall for a meeting.

"I understand what the program is doing. I understand the number of people they're contacting on a day-in, day-out basis on a two-to-one basis," he says.

Kerr believes the kind of "personal contact" homeless residents and local business owners get through the Welcoming Streets project is important.

"Too often, people see the homeless as a number, or a faceless entity, or something to be feared, something to be reviled," he says. "These are human beings and they’re going through a tough time."

He says homelessness is an issue where there isn't one single solution.

"It's going to be a multitude of efforts from different perspectives," he says. "This is why I think Welcoming Streets is so important, because when they make that personal contact and people feel like they're being listened to, then the Welcoming Streets people can direct them to, or even walk them to a social service agency or an outreach program."

He believes if people don’t get that kind of contact, there's a "disconnect," and "nothing will get done."

"It's not going to work in every single instance, but it does open up a great many possibilities for care and outreach, and redirection and support, and it possibly puts people on the path to a better life," says Kerr.