NORTH PERTH – After a presentation of the Perth County Community Safety and Well-being Plan, North Perth council voted in favour of a resolution to adopt the plan on May 17. In all, six municipal partners need to adopt the plan.
Stratford Police Chief Greg Skinner said the presentation intended to give a broad overview of how and why there is a legislative requirement for each municipality to have a Community Safety and Well-being Plan and to explain the public and stakeholder consultations that inform the priority areas to determine the goals and objectives for implementing it.
“We have been impressed with the cooperation… of all six municipalities in Perth County partnered to commit to one plan,” said Perth County OPP Inspector Dave Sinko. “That is no easy task at the best of times… Each of your municipalities individually and collectively have incredible people performing amazing work to support their communities.”
The purpose of the plan is to coordinate activities already happening, leverage existing resources, share best practices and identify and address any gaps in service delivery.
“We live in a fast-paced world where issues come at us from all directions,” said Sinko. “It’s easy to get pulled into the weeds and get stuck in paralysis by analysis.”
He explained that incident responses involving resources like police, firefighters, ambulance, social services and hospitals are expensive.
“This plan focuses primarily on the other three levels to reduce the calls for services and reduce the risk to our communities,” said Sinko. “The more initiatives we can implement that are focused on social development, prevention and risk intervention, the greater impact we can have on our community.”
Director of Social Services Kim McElroy said that key stakeholders offered advice, guidance and local experience in developing the research and survey tools to ensure the right organization and individuals were contacted to contribute to this plan.
“The advisory committee meetings provided the opportunity for leadership positions who can make decisions and are authorized to allocate resources including funding from existing budgets to come together for a common purpose,” she said.
The following were adopted as the plan’s guiding principles: respect, equity, collaboration, inclusion, commitment and compassion.
“As you can appreciate there is a lot of existing information that needed to be reviewed to ensure that the goals and objectives of the Community Safety and Well-being Plan aligned with the existing strategic plans of your municipality and supported the goals you would want to achieve as a council,” said McElroy. “All of that information obtained from that research and consultations were built into this plan.”
She told council that stakeholder engagement is the key to this plan being successfully accepted by the community members. A comprehensive online survey was conducted and 1,078 surveys were completed throughout the county; 44 per cent from Stratford, 20 per cent from St. Marys, 10 per cent from North Perth, 12 per cent from West Perth, nine per cent from Perth East and five per cent from Perth South.
“In addition to the surveys, a number of facilitated discussions and one-on-one interviews were held,” said McElroy. “A total of 91 people participated in those sessions.”
The last component of stakeholder engagement sessions focused on people with lived experiences.
“I think we all recognize that until we’ve walked a mile in another person’s shoes we don’t know the challenges they have faced along the way,” she said. “Those with lived experiences had a unique perspective. One that the consultants went to great lengths to ensure was included in the engagement process because if we don’t know our consumers then the delivery of the service won’t meet their needs, whether that is the delivery of programs for seniors, youth or support for those suffering from mental health and addictions issues.”
Skinner said the survey responses for all the communities indicated that access to health care services was the No. 1 priority for residents. Stratford and St. Marys both had adequate and affordable housing as their No. 2 priority. While North, West and South Perth respondents identified other community securities and safety as their No. 2 priority. This includes police visibility and enforcement strategy as a deterrent to criminal activity and traffic-related issues. Perth East respondents identified recreational activity opportunities as their No. 2 priority.
“This plan takes into account the similarities and differences in these identified priorities enabling each municipality to put programs and services in place to meet their specific community’s needs,” said Skinner.
Sinko said the research, consultations with stakeholders and engagement with the public culminated in the identification of four priority areas of focus for the plan.
Priority No. 1 is systems planning and integration. The focus of this will be to improve knowledge of and access to programs, services, supports and resources.
“What became apparent during the engagement session was that people either didn’t know that the programs were available in their community or how to access the programs that exist,” said Sinko.
The second goal under this priority is focused on police visibility and more experts on patrol or readily accessible to police.
“Priority No. 2 is adequate, affordable and attainable housing,” he said. “The goal of this is to increase the availability and accessibility of affordable, safe and suitable housing by supporting this strategic objective of our area’s updated housing and homelessness plan.”
The third priority is affordable and accessible health, social and recreation services.
“Priority area No. 4 is social inclusion,” said Sinko. “Goals include increasing the application of equity, diversity and inclusion practices across all partner agencies to promote understanding of the diverse groups and populations that live in our communities.”
After all councils adopt the Community Safety and Well-being Plan, McElroy said the next step will be implementation.
“One of the things that I have consistently heard when dealing with members of the public is that we may be aware of the issues plaguing our community but nobody is doing anything about it,” she said. “Some with lived experience think that nobody cares about them.”
Part of the initial phase for the implementation will be a comprehensive communication strategy to inform the public and provide ongoing updates of the enhancements made to service delivery efforts to “demonstrate to the public that this plan is not sitting on a shelf.”
“The public has high expectations of its politicians and municipal employees,” said McElroy. “To maintain trust and support from our constituents we need to do a better job of letting the public know what we are doing, what we hope to achieve and how they can be part of the solution.”
Each of the partner municipalities will have a seat at the executive leadership table, with the police and social services participating as co-chairs and resources to the executive leadership team. The voting rights are reserved for the representatives of the municipalities.
“The action group is where the heavy lifting will take place,” said McElroy. “There is flexibility to line the action groups based on geography, priority or an already existing committee.”
The plan will leverage existing committees. The first implantation step of the plan will be to conduct an inventory of committees in Perth County, review their mandates and programs they have in place currently.
“We will then begin the process of bringing the leadership from like-minded action groups together for greater clarity,” she said.
The responsibility of the partnership council will be to implement the plan, identify linkages between the programs and services and enhance coordination among and between municipalities and service providers. It will determine how frequently to report back to the individual municipal councils, determine the annual budget allocation that will go before each council and provide operational support to the plan. Coun. Allan Rothwell asked if there was any funding from the province for the implementation of the mental health aspects of the plan and affordable and attainable housing.
“At present, there is no structure in place for funding from the province for the Community Safety and Well-being plans,” said Skinner. “I anticipate there will be some funding specific to the plans coming forward in the near future… but at present, the funding is at the local level.”
McElroy said this plan will be highlighting the Housing and Homelessness Plan.
“I will tell you… it always remains on the forefront and we will leverage the resources through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing through delegations,” she said. “As well as a strong link to the Ministry of Health because the importance of supportive housing has come on our radar as well.”
“I echo that interest in having the Ministry of Health at the table,” said Mayor Todd Kasenberg. “I think that is going to be critical on that matter.”
Coun. Lee Anne Andriessen asked what the timeline would be for starting. Skinner said they would attempt to bring the executive leadership team together as soon as possible.
“There has been some significant anticipation in the public,” he said. “Of course when you engage the public to talk about programs and services that impact on them they are interested to see things start moving so we want to… demonstrate through the communications strategy and bringing all the major teams together that we are commencing this and that it is important to us and the communities.”
“I look forward to the approach to metrics and evaluation approaches,” said Kasenberg. “As I read it, to me that was the piece that is kind of missing, a sense of what our baseline looks like and how you are going to measure against some of the objectives that you’ve outlined. It does look like your plan includes developing that very soon. I look forward to learning more about that in due course.”
Council passed the resolution to adopt the plan unanimously.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner