It's not just the neighbours opposed to the creation of a "service hub" in downtown Woodstock – local non-profits also said Thursday they're worried about what Hope House Oxford could mean for them and the clients they serve.
It’s not just the neighbours who oppose the creation of a new “service hub” in downtown Woodstock.
Representatives of local non-profits also said Thursday they’re worried about what Hope House Oxford could potentially mean for them and the clients they serve.
The idea of Hope House was introduced earlier this summer as a way to bring multiple social services for people in need under one roof in a county-owned building on Light Street.
But amid a climate of provincial uncertainty and scaling back, and as Woodstock and the county struggle with a housing crisis and the growing opioid epidemic, some city councillors, local residents and, interestingly, other non-profits aren’t sure the Hope House model is the way forward.
“Tonight, I want to make it totally clear we are not completely against the Hope House model. … We have concerns about introducing another service requesting ample funding in these uncertain times,” said Heather Davies, an employment counsellor with the Women’s Employment Resource Centre.
Four delegations representing three agencies took time to speak Thursday night, including representatives from Trumpet of Truth Christian ministries and the Women’s Employment Resource Centre.
Trista “Winter” Smith, who helps organize the community free table during the week, also spoke about her concerns with Hope House and the services it might provide.
“He seemed to regurgitate all of the same scripted, hollow lines he had given me previously one on one,” said Smith, recalling a neighbourhood meeting held last month for neighbours who live near the old Children’s Aid building on Light Street, which proponents are suggesting as the site for Hope House.
Two letters received by council also referenced this meeting, noting they came out with concerns about Hope House.
Shawn Shapton, one of the proponents of Hope House, was present at Thursday’s council meeting but did not speak on the issue at the meeting. In a later interview with the Sentinel-Review, Shapton said they understand the concerns raised on Thursday.
“We are hearing them loud and clear that they really don’t want this facility in their backyard. We understand that,” Shapton said.
Davies said between cuts from Oxford County, which began providing funding in 2011, and the province, the Women’s Employment Resource Centre is facing cuts of $147,000 – or 34 per cent – in 2020.
Each of the organizations that gave a delegation indicated they were not consulted or notified about Hope House, despite being a front-line service.
But Shapton later said the Hope House proponents consulted with a wide variety of service that serve the most people, though not with each of the more than 150 services that exist in Oxford County.
Coun. Deb Tait made a motion that would, among other things, have the city urge county council to entertain competitive proposals for the county-owned building located in downtown Woodstock. Tait said that job creation, business development or other “beneficial uses” such as education should be considered.
Each of the delegations stressed they were not opposed to additional services to help those in need, but weren’t sure that a model such as Hope House was the best approach.
Much of the concern around Hope House has been its significant ask for county funding – about $250,000 a year in operating costs, use of a county building for $1 a year, and roughly $1.5 million in renovations to that county building.
With concerns about provincial government cuts and downloading, some councillors at the county level have said this isn’t the time to spend.
“If the decision is not right now with the uncertainty … we understand that. That being said … every single day while politicians decide where the money goes, people are still living on the streets, people are going hungry and families in our community are struggling every single day,” said Shapton, noting that Hope House had secured 60 per cent private funding.
Tait took the unusual step of asking for a recorded vote, meaning each councillor was called upon individually to register their vote on the motion.
“I am not going to be supporting this. I feel we are putting cart before the horse,” said Coun. Sandra Talbot. “But now because of all rumours and wrong information, how does a project like this go forward, especially on a positive note?”
Tait’s motion passed 6 to 1, with Coun. Talbot the lone vote against after some debate amongst the councillors.
“Our goal was never to create any type of drama or uncertainty,” Shapton said. “It was to bring in an awesome model … and help those people rise out of their current situation.”
Several people, including Trista Smith and a representative from the Women’s Employment Resource Centre, are scheduled to speak to Hope House at Oxford County council on Wednesday, when council will hear the outcome of a staff report on the model’s feasibility.