Northern Huron Connection Centre security discussed at council

NORTH HURON – Wingham resident William Wallace appeared before North Huron council as a delegation to request more security information be shared with the residents who live in the neighbourhood near the Northern Huron Connection Centre (NHCC).

Serving Howick, North Huron, and Morris-Turnberry, the NHCC is intended as a welcoming, safe space for the community’s most vulnerable citizens to rest, access basic needs, healthcare services, identification assistance, and more.

United Way Executive Director Ryan Erb was present in a separate delegation to answer security questions and update council on the centre’s progress.

Before he began, Wallace stated that he was concerned about security and is not against the NHCC.

Wallace says many residents are uneasy, especially since the recent police raid on Centre Street, less than 100 metres from the centre, where many firearms and illegal drugs were confiscated. They want to be assured that motion-sensored security cameras are installed as part of the security plans for the centre.

Referring to the open house held in the fall of 2022, Wallace said in a letter addressed to council, “[we] were told that there would be ‘reaction’ to any possible scenarios that could be considered dangerous, and or harmful to both the staff, guests and people in the neighbourhood (home owners).”

“The response from the United way has been a ‘wait and see’ approach,” Wallace said, “and I don’t believe this is strong enough.”

Not satisfied with the United Way’s approach and receiving no response from multiple requests to Inspector Jason Younan, detachment commander at the Huron County OPP, Wallace decided to approach council to seek their assistance.

The letter said, “We would respectfully request that the town council of North Huron request a proactive, actionable plan from the United Way, Choices for Change (the entity that has been hired by the United Way to run the day-to-day operations of the proposed connection centre at St. Paul’s Church) and St. Paul’s Church for the safety and security of the citizens of the township and that this plan would be to have security cameras installed before the centre opens.”

Deputy Reeve Kevin Falconer pointed out that the NHCC is a Huron County initiative.

“Yes, it’s in North Huron, but we have no control over any aspect, even to tell yourself to install security cameras,” said Falconer.

However, Falconer said that as a council, he didn’t see a problem with just “conveying our constituent’s concerns” to the organizations involved.

During the United Way’s presentation, Erb responded to Wallace’s delegation, saying that their partner organization, the Canadian Mental Health Association (formerly Choices for Change), is currently working closely with the OPP, formulating a security plan.

After the OPP submits that plan, the residents of Wingham will be notified of what security measures will be in place.

“It has not been our experience that there have been any major incidents at any of the other connection centres in the region, however no one can predict the future,” said Erb. “It’s fair for Mr. Wallace and other residents to ask questions. We do anticipate more information coming and we have agreed to host a meeting three months after the centre is in operation.”

Erb said they were committed to continuing to operate transparently and would provide any updates to the community as things progress.

Coun. Mitch Wright commented about the centre, saying that the perception of centres like this is that “they are magnets for troubled people.”

While he understands the resident’s concerns, he thinks “typically people who are coming to the connection centre are looking for help. Typically, those are not the people that cause the trouble. The people who cause trouble are not looking for help.”

Erb said that while there is a wide array of people that use the three centres that have been in operation for the last year in Stratford, Listowel, and Exeter, he mostly sees young mothers with children using the laundry facilities and those experiencing homelessness coming in to get warm and have a bite to eat.

“These people have names and histories, and they deserve our attention,” Erb said. “I know that is Mr. Wallace’s care and concern as well.”

The NHCC will open sometime in April at St. Paul’s Trinity-Anglican Church at 19 John St. in Wingham.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times