City plans to fix roaming issues at County Fair Mall
Police and social service agencies will be involved in tackling homelessness visible in the mall, but the plan is met with skepticism from those sheltering at the site.
THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay has said it will respond to concerns about people seeking refuge at County Fair Mall, with police, public health and social service agencies participating in developing a response .
The general public and the company that owns the mall have contacted the city about it, Mayor Bill Mauro said, focusing on an abandoned gas station in the mall’s parking lot.
Concerns include people using the washroom without proper facilities at the site, litter and concerns expressed by customers, the mall’s business owners said.
“Obviously it’s a very visible place, the community is very concerned, and I think it’s important to let them know that while homelessness is not really a direct responsibility [of the city], there are agencies in the community and municipal involvement to try to do our best, ”said Mauro.
The use of the site as a shelter has “created problems of health and safety given the dilapidation of the installation and the lack of suitable sanitary facilities”, according to a press release released Thursday by the city.
In an interview on Friday, Mauro declined to discuss these health and safety issues in more detail.
“I think whoever was near the site, the public health issues would be pretty obvious,” he said.
A meeting scheduled for next week with the police, health unit, local service providers and the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board will develop a solution focused on “providing alternative options to those affected,” according to the report. the city.
This could include connecting people with the city’s “extensive” housing and accommodation services, he said.
Some of those sheltering at the gas station were skeptical of this approach when questioned on Friday, saying they were already aware of the options available.
Several said they did not feel safe in the limited number of local shelters, while wait times for transitional housing were long.
“We are not annoying anyone,” said one man, who said he had been living on the streets for about seven weeks. “How do we scare people? We just sit and talk.
Providing a potty and trash cans at the site would help solve the problem, said several of those using it as a shelter.
The mall owner and a business owner on the property each said they were not aware of any incidents involving safety issues.
A business owner located on the County Fair property said people have gathered at the site more this summer than in the past. Although he called the group “99% harmless,” he said many customers had complained.
“I have had customers who no longer shop here,” he said. “It’s not a good look for the city.”
The problem is made more complicated because the old gas station is privately owned, Mauro said, noting that the city would work with the owner.
Customer concerns have led Toronto developer Goldmanco Inc., which owns the County Fair mall but does not own the gas station, to hire additional security guards, said account manager Andrea Norton.
She also said a planned visit to a mall market by a children’s camp was canceled because of the issue.
Local authorities were reluctant to remove people from the property, she said.
Goldmanco wants the city or the property owner to act, but Norton suggested the company might be receptive to solutions that don’t involve forcing people to leave the property, if it could be cleaned up and turned into a place where people could stay safe.
City governments and police forces across the country drew criticism and protests when police were ordered to remove homeless settlements from city parks in recent months.
The situation at County Fair is not comparable, as it involves private property, Mauro said. He did not expect the city’s response to be led by police, although they were involved in the talks.
Ultimately, the mayor said the problem stems from insufficient resources to tackle poverty and homelessness from senior levels of government.
“We can never get out of this problem as a municipality,” he said. “This is where provincial and federal supports really need to step in.”
He highlighted a proposal for a new mental health and addictions crisis center that the city submitted to the province more than a year ago, on behalf of some 20 health and social services agencies. The city has not yet received a response on funding for the site.
“We were really hoping we would get some traction on this, but so far we haven’t,” he said. “It is absolutely the long term solution to a lot of these problems.”