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LETTER: City lacks expertise to deal with tent city

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Dear Editor:

First and foremost, I commend Councillor Bill Dennis for accepting responsibility for his conduct on Oct.16 and apologizing to constituents and council. His efforts set the tone for council to go back to work and bring the city’s key issues forward.

Many noteworthy initiatives were on the agenda, such as installing traffic lights/roundabouts at the intersection of Blackwell and Modeland Roads and ensuring that any scheme, such as “naturalisation” of parks, takes into account local concerns. However, by the end of the debate, Councillor Chrissy McRoberts’ proposal for a tent city had made me anxious based on how the matter had been presented.

Councillor McRoberts’ initiative to deal with the 25-30 persons who are currently living in tents should be commended. It’s a problem, and the people of Sarnia can’t turn their backs on those in need. The Mayor followed suit, suggesting that this would be a major issue and that he would support it, but then adding, “location will be the biggest issue.”

Having dealt with and planned for thousands of internally displaced people in other countries, I know that location is important, but it’s not the most pressing concern. I congratulate Councillor Terry Burrell for bringing to light some of the difficulties, such as the city’s obligation in hosting a tent camp, as well as the responsibilities of providing sanitation and cooking areas. Even Chris Carter, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), was quick to point out that, “respectfully, we (the City) does not have the department or the services… and the police as well as the county needs to provide a lot of input.”

So, how does a city deal with displaced individuals in a hurry, especially as winter approaches? You must seek the advice of specialists, such as the Canadian Red Cross (CRC). I’ve been involved with the CRC since the Manitoba floods in 1997 and the Haitian earthquake in 2010. Instead of attempting to “reinvent the wheel” by searching internally to remedy this dilemma, the city should speak with these institutions first. Only after a thorough (but quick) assessment has been completed should we look to our city services for advice on how to address the needs of a safe tent city within Sarnia.

The Mayor attempted to gather all of these issues before addressing the County on this, but it was evident that the city lacked the expertise. If the City fails to engage specialists, we will have to deal with infectious disease outbreaks, fire threats, and other chronic health disorders, in addition to the ones raised by Councillor Burrell and the CAO.

Councillor McRoberts’ motion is required, and professionals have planned and analyzed what is required; nevertheless, if the City declines to consult the experts, I fear that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill.

Jonathan De Swert

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