Thursday, March 26, 2015

Room for discussion

Last week I told you about something coming Saturday, March 28th: the Earth Hour Super-Drive, where you can donate food or clothing and sell your electronic junk to the Barrie Green Party behind 110 Dunlop St. W. between 10 AM and noon. Meet our special guest, Green Party of Ontario deputy leader Linh Nguyen!
But that’s not the only thing happening this Saturday. There will also be a community meeting to discuss issues around downtown rooming houses, and how the community can pull together to overcome some challenges.
This follows from the first meeting that took place on February 21st, which itself was in response to a tragic violent death in a nearby rooming house. Hosted by Hope City Church with the support of the Barrie Community Life Centre and Ward 2 (downtown) Councillor Rose Romita, the first meeting was very informative and productive.
Mark Wanzel photo
Local residents shared their feelings of desperation, helplessness, anger, or situational hopelessness, and articulated how they feel “invisible” and trapped in unsafe or substandard living conditions. There was much talk of how people have to live and how improvements might be made. Some revelations were shocking, such as the lack of clean-up of the crime scene. Members of Hope and their supporters committed to caring about these people, and continuing the discussion, because their desire is to provide spiritual and emotional care for the residents of the rooming houses, and the surrounding community, demonstrating to everyone that they are loved and that there is a community of people who cares for them, and that they have identity, value, and purpose that supersedes their living conditions.
A big question is how, in the middle of a thriving, growing, and caring city, there can be a downtown rooming house culture described as fueled by desperation, resulting in violence and despair, and how we can overcome this challenge and move forward.
Some first steps have been taken. As an immediate result of the first meeting, some volunteers stepped forward to get the crime scene fully cleaned up. Councillor Romita has been working with some of the rooming house owners on improving conditions, getting some needed repairs done and building some bridges. There is work to be done by the occupants, too, on taking ownership of their surroundings and responsibility for their actions, because only through cooperation can issues around repairs and maintenance truly be resolved.
One of the clearest outcomes of the first meeting was a desire to continue the discussion. So at this next meeting, people will report on what has happened since the last one and continue the conversation on how to move forward. There will be representatives from police and other agencies there to provide information or answer questions, and there will be food for participants. Everyone is welcome to attend; this meeting is aimed at all who care about our downtown and its residents, not just the residents themselves.
So join Hope City Church, Councillor Romita, and the Barrie Community Life Center at 2 PM this Saturday, meeting at the Central United Church at 54 Ross Street. You may learn something new, find some way to help, or even awaken a new calling to build a sharing, caring community together where no-one is left behind. It’s time to leave behind ignorance and alienation and forge a new path together.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Keeping the homelessness conversation going"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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