Oshawa drop-in centre for the homeless at odds with neighbours

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Published July 5, 2021 at 1:23 pm

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A drop-in centre on Simcoe South that offers meals, counselling, and support for the homeless population of Oshawa is under fire from its neighbours, who are seeing a rise in vandalism and harassment of their clients and are demanding the City make the problems – or the outreach centre – go away.

The First Light Foundation of Hope, founded by Rev. Roy Graves, was incorporated in 2018 as a faith-based registered charity for the homeless, addicted, and marginalized members of society in Oshawa. They provide hot meals-to-go, as well as resources to those suffering from addictions.

Neighbouring businesses Dairy Queen, the Oshawa Italian Club and Oshawa Dentist don’t see First Light as a beacon of hope, however, and wrote letters to Oshawa Council earlier this year asking for action.

The Oshawa Italian Club said in their letter that people were “defecating and urinating” beside the club and that one member found a person sleeping inside their garbage bin.

Dairy Queen management said they had “multiple issues” with graffiti and “indecent acts” of vandalism, as well as five break-ins of their storage shed and several fires in the back parking lot.

Oshawa Dentist said First Light is responsible for a “whirlwind of damage,” citing “homeless injecting drugs into themselves on our front steps,” as well as numerous acts of vandalism.

The letter, signed by Dr. Roxana Popa and Florin Popa, wants the City to “expeditiously” remove “any and all forms of soups kitchens, makeshift religious establishments hosting so-called assistance of the homeless on the main streets of Oshawa, specifically on Simcoe St. South.”

The issue reached Council June 21 and Oshawa and Ward 5 City Councillor John Gray suggested the best way to deal with the situation is to have By-law Enforcement work with Durham Regional Police Service and Regional Social Services to try and resolve the issues.

Gray admitted the complaints cited in the letter “was not a good look,” adding the Covid-19 restrictions on washroom use has made some of the problems worse.

“Let’s see what we can do to understand the issues and hopefully we can come up with some innovative solutions.”

Ward 5 Regional Councillor Brian Nicholson agreed, saying it was “not a time for pointing fingers but for finding solutions.”

Rosemary McConkey, the Ward 1 City Councillor tried to get support for a special council meeting this summer on the matter but failed to get enough support for her amendment. Gray said inviting residents to vent about the homeless problem in the city would not help the situation.

“It would be,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “a feces show.”

Derek Giberson, whose Ward 4 territory includes First Light, said the best thing neighbours can do to settle disputes likes this is to communicate, calling it the “most effective tool” to finding solutions.

“There are enforcement tools available (but) we need to keep repeating the basic fact that the number one solution in this particular case is building more affordable housing,” said Giberson, who sits on the board of the nearby Back Door Mission. “That’s the bigger picture issue that we can’t lose sight of.”

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