68 Lindsay Street North: Are things improving nearly one year later?

‘Homelessness is not always a choice’

By Kirk Winter

City Housing manager, Michelle Corley, speaks with Kawartha Lakes Police Chief Mark Mitchell in front of 68 Lindsay St. N., in Lindsay. Photo: Sienna Frost.

The city and local police force believe things are improving at 68 Lindsay Street North (LSN) after a slew of policy changes were made in the past year. But some people who live in nearby neighbourhoods aren’t so sure it’s working well enough for them to feel safe and secure.

A complete reset on how the programming for high-risk addicts is being delivered at the supportive housing unit was made about 11 months ago, including mandatory participation in transitional support services. It was supposed to be a change for the better – and numbers from both emergency and police visits seem to support that assertion.

In 2021, there were 106 paramedic calls to the property. That went down to 48 calls in 2022. And the head of Kawartha Lakes Police Service, Chief Mark Mitchell, says calls to 68 LSN have dropped from 716 police visits in 2021 to 529 visits in 2022, a 26 per cent reduction which he called a “positive step” thanks to the reset program adopted by the housing unit.

But exactly what steps have been taken in the past year, and just how did the community get here in the first place? That’s the kind of background information City Housing manager, Michelle Corley wants people to understand, so they can see the evolution of the property.

The building is managed by Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation (KLHHC) and Corley points out the city is responsible to the province for preventing, addressing and reducing homelessness, including chronic homelessness.

Initially, the 24-unit residential wing of the building was occupied in 2019 as the city’s first purpose-built supportive housing building.

“It was funded to serve those experiencing homelessness with the most complex needs, many of whom are at high risk of death without the right interventions.”

Corley said that since its opening, 68 LSN has faced many challenges. Those problems included receiving less grant money than was expected, which impacted the kind of help that would be available at the building.

“This meant that on-site intensive case management services could not be provided 24/7 as originally planned,” Corley says. “The supports also did not include (expected) dedicated clinical level mental health and addictions treatment.”

Director of Human Services Cheryl Faber says the pandemic was also a large negative factor in the launch of 68 LSN.

“During the pandemic, gaps in primary health care and mental health and addiction treatment widened,” Faber said. “Access to services became much harder for those with complex needs.”

She says social isolation, withdrawal of services, high levels of stress, lack of daily activity and (availability of) CERB payments worsened the opioid catastrophe.

“Ongoing outcomes of the pandemic included worsening addictions, drug-related criminal activity, poisoned drug supplies and drug overdoses.”

Faber made it clear that before legislation was changed in 2022, the city did not have the ability or legal right to control the behaviours of tenants. The provincial ban on evictions during the pandemic also slowed the city in removing tenants who were behaving in a negative manner, Faber said.

Tenants and their guests

Neighbours of the property who have dealt with years of petty vandalism, theft, drug dealing and random acts of violence say their quality of life has been impacted in a negative way because of many of the challenges highlighted by Faber and Corley.

Bill, who wouldn’t share his full name for fear of retribution, works in the building trades. His family has been living in the east ward since 1946.

An intersection not far from the social housing unit. Photo: Sienna Frost.

He says the tone of the entire neighbourhood has been changed by the building, its tenants, and the people who visit them.

“Nothing seems to happen until after the city staff (in the adjoining building) go home about 5 pm,” Bill says, and that’s when the trouble begins. It’s been like this since the beginning, he says.

“Overnight (after the building opened) cars started being broken into …change, tools, portable GPSs…everything was fair game. Then when they had rifled all the cars within staggering distance, they were into backyards taking bikes, power tools.”

While he says he knows the people who lived at 68 LSN “need real help,” it’s still difficult to be living in the same neighbourhood. “Unless something disappears that is really expensive, we don’t call or report it anymore. The cops are sympathetic, but short of something we are going to claim, we don’t call…police anymore.”

Corley told the Advocate that the city is aware that many of the problems both inside and outside of 68 LSN are caused by guests of tenants, who are not always invited, but that their dealings with these guests are limited by the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).

“We are aware that guests (create) significant difficulties in KLH communities,” Corley said. Other than calling the police, if warranted, the only remedy if a tenant’s guest causes issues is to start the eviction process against the tenant, she says.

“Under the RTA, if a tenant invites someone in, regardless of the circumstances, that person could not be refused entry.”

For neighbours of 68 LSN, the opening of the unit in 2019 immediately and negatively impacted their tightknit community beyond what any could have imagined — and still does today, say neighbourhood residents.

Like Bill, Daniella — who was also not comfortable sharing her real name for fear of retribution — moved to the east ward in 2005 after growing up in Durham Region.

“I used to love walking through Rivera Park at almost any time of day or night,” Daniella says, referring to the city park near 68 LSN. “It is now worth your life to go through there much after dusk. There are needles everywhere. The folks from LSN are there to sell their stuff and buy drugs away from the lights, cameras and security officials at 68.”

She points out that not everyone has a backyard to which they can escape, making public space that much more important. “Rivera is my happy place, or at least it used to be. I have talked to the city and the cops…they say they will do a better job cleaning up. I have talked to officers about having a presence in the park so (other) people can enjoy the park again. They shrug their shoulders and say those decisions are beyond their pay grade.”

The police chief says there’s no doubt how challenging the supportive housing unit is for police. “I think it is fair to say that no building in town keeps the KLPS busier than 68 LSN,” Mitchell said in a face-to-face interview.

But he points out that many of the times when neighbours see a police presence there, “we are actually involved in community engagement.”

“We do walkthroughs of the building and our community outreach team is often there touching base with residents, offering services and inquiring about how their treatment is going.”

Mitchell believes that far too much criminal activity is blamed on the residents of 68 LSN, a point reinforced by both Corley and Faber.

Corley strongly believes that 68 LSN has become a victim of “considerable misinformation and inaccurate rumours, particularly on social media.”

“Incidents taking place at 68 LSN are more likely to garner public attention than similar incidents taking place elsewhere in the community,” Faber said. “Some incidents have been mistakenly attributed to 68 LSN and details have been inaccurate and overblown.”

Unfortunately, she says, for the sake of privacy of the KLH tenants and their situations, KLHHC and the city cannot respond to correct misinformation or rumours that may be stated on social media.

What did the reset look like?

In May of 2022, KLHHC adopted what they called a reset program for 68 LSN.

“This is a significantly different service model for existing tenants and new residents,” Corley says.

The reset program focused on better security, changing who might be eligible for an apartment at 68 LSN and worked to connect residents with more community supports.

Importantly, the city received permission from the province to implement a new transition-in-place program that, as of the fall of 2022, means the new residents’ housing is tied to their mandatory participation in the transition programs that will help them stabilize. This includes a compliance component where they must adhere to rules during the process.

Another aspect of the reset was eviction of some tenants, says Faber.

“A number of tenants were evicted whose behaviour negatively impacted others, who declined services and supports, or who needed services that were not available,” Faber says. “Units were held vacant as the program changes were being implemented and are now being gradually filled with reset program participants.”

Calls to 68 LSN have dropped from 716 police visits in 2021 to 529 visits in 2022, a 26 per cent reduction. Photo: Sienna Frost.

Corley says that the actions brought about by the changes, “have significantly improved the community of 68 LSN over the last year. It is a more peaceful, positive community. There are fewer police and paramedic calls to the property and fewer complaints have been received from neighbours.

Mitchell was involved in the reset program from the outset and has been fully supportive of its aims.  

“We believe it will provide the housing service with a higher level of control,” Mitchell says, and that the changes “will have an overall positive public effect.”

Not all neighbours are convinced.

Matt, who feared retaliation without being granted anonymity by the Advocate, is a Fleming student.

“I rent a room off Queen Street, and I pass 68 LSN every day, sometimes twice,” Matt said. “That place is so different once it gets dark and the junkies and their buddies come out. The police seem to be there every night.”

“I grew up in Elmira,” Matt said, “and I haven’t seen anything like what goes on around that building when it gets dark.”

The problems associated with the building were certainly heard by Councillor Eric Smeaton when he was running for his municipal position last fall.

“There is no doubt that the most frequent conversation we had during the campaign in the east ward (around 68 LSN) included an appreciation of mental health issues,” Smeaton said. While the issue of roads was important to voters, he said, it didn’t have anywhere near the “passion” people had for the growing concerns about the increase in opioid abuse, homelessness, poverty “and all associated needs to support our (city) department(s) to ensure a feeling of community security.”

When asked specifically what he heard at the front door Smeaton said the quick answer is that most “were very upset, frustrated and very vocal. Many felt threatened safety-wise in their neighbourhood. Everyone had something to say…so…this was an important issue.”

The councillor says many in the community “want the opportunity to help.”

“I believe that there are many in the immediate community who want to be involved in improving the situation and participating in something positive.”

Something positive is the end goal, although Mitchell is not wearing rose-coloured glasses. He says that social media assertations about guns and gangs at the facility are factually correct, if occasionally overblown.

“We had a shooting there in January 2022. We responded immediately and arrested a guest of one of the residents. There has not been a shooting since,” he says.

The police chief acknowledges there “has been gang activity in and around the building and we have seized firearms there, but to be fair we have seen an increase of guns in general since 2021, so it is not just 68 LSN.”

Mitchell said he “does not want to absolve the residents for the decisions they make because substance abuse is not an excuse for bad behaviour.”

But Faber says people have gone “from being homeless to stably housed, with better lives, because of the housing services of 68 LSN.”

“A recent survey of tenants shared that there are activities available on site and the staff are very approachable,” she adds.

Corley says that residents of the building are bothered by the public perception around being homeless.

Residents told staff as part of a recent survey, that the public should “make sure to get to know people, know their stories, and know their backgrounds” before passing judgement, and for those who are lucky enough to have a place to live that “homelessness is not always a choice, just because I am homeless, I am not a terrible person.”

2 Comments

  1. Wallace says:

    Build it and they will come– programs to help the useless always ruin the lives of the useful.

  2. There are problems with crime in every neighbourhood. I live in Ward 5 in a mixed neighbourhood where my neighbours told me I could buy any drug I need from a house kitty corner to mine. Shortly after I moved here in 2003, a neighbour had his boat motor stolen during the night by an organized group that brought bolt cutters to cut off his chain lock. Police told him the gangs drive around Lindsay casing neighbourhoods during the day for items they can easily steal and sell and then come back at night with a van and their tactical gear and tools and take the items. One of the staff at physio recognized my address and told me her sons had told her a gang was watching me and noticed I was in and out into my yard during the day without locking my door. She said this gang planned to jump my fence, force entry during the day, steal my electronics, beat me up, videotape the beating and then post it on youtube. I have locked my screen door every time I go in and out into the yard during the day since then. Even way back in the last century, I knew a woman who lived in low-income housing who was a target of gangs that preyed on the vulnerable. At her address, she could do nothing about other tenants that got access to a master key, entered her unit whenever they wanted to, watched her TV, ate her food, and coerced her to pay a monthly protection fee. She could not report them to get them evicted because she was one person and they were many; had she reported them, they would have reported her and as there were more of them than there were of her, they would have succeeded in evicting her and taking her unit for another one of them. When I worked as an outreach worker with the homeless in Hamilton, I saw that every month on cheque day, gangs would come into the shelters and shake down the homeless for protection. One of my clients managed, somehow, to get two CPP disability cheques – one, he said, for him to live for a month and the other “to make things right with the gangs”, he said. His CPP worker wasn’t about to report him for fraud so neither did I. Another client, a single mother with a 14 year-old son, refused to give them money so they beat her so badly in the women’s washroom that she ended up in ICU and her son ended up in care. Today, I don’t live near 68 Lindsay Street North but there was a shooting not too far from where I live a few years ago. I don’t feel safe to walk around where I live anymore not so much because the neighbourhood is bad but because the world has changed. People are a lot more angry after the pandemic. And everyone is struggling financially. The problem with homelessness is that it makes people vulnerable and when the homeless get housing, street predators still know where they live and still try to prey on them. Add addictions to that, and no wonder police, paramedic and other social services are required a lot. But what is it they say in the 12-step programs? Progress not perfection? And it looks like this is progressing in the right direction, so well done, everyone!! Keep up the good work!!

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