By David Sharpe
Facing an opioid and housing crisis years in the making, the City of Brantford confronts the crisis by serving tea and cookies at a panel session at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant.
The session is a fig-leaf to cover the failure of city council’s down-loading of its responsibility for social services. Former Mayor Chris Friel thought he could get a youth shelter on the cheap if it was run by the religious organization Freedom House.
The city announced the closing of the shelter after a number of violent incidents. The facility also experienced a funding shortfall. Taxpayers should be happy. The facility was one violent incident away from a lawsuit against the city.
With the Brantford Expositor being reduced to nothing more than a chamber of commerce newsletter it has been easy for council to dodge its responsibility to fashion an affordable housing strategy. But now outsiders are asking, “What’s going on?”
The national press has zeroed in on Brantford as ground zero in the opioid crisis with the downtown core being described as an unsafe crime zone. In response to media inquiries as to the causes of the crisis the city can only speculate.
Aaron Wallace, director of strategic planning and community partnerships with the City of Brantford, told the CBC, “We haven’t been able to really attribute cause, and it’s a question that’s so important.”
This profession of ignorance doesn’t stand the sniff test. The twin challenges of poverty and housing affordability are the root causes of the opioid crisis. The city has willfully ignored their own data collection that explains the extent of the problem.
Low income families in Brantford struggle with poverty and finding affordable accommodation. In Brantford’s case, statistics gathered from the 2006 federal census and compiled for the Brant-Brantford Affordable Housing Demand and Supply Analysis show average family income for Brantford in 2005 was $67,651, a full $10,000 below the provincial average of $77,967.
The report notes Brantford exceeds the provincial average in a number of key statistical areas that contribute to the demand for affordable housing: the number of seniors, self-identified aboriginals, and female-headed single parent families. Added to these groups is a growing cohort of Laurier Brantford students. All these groups suffer from low incomes and are over-represented in the downtown core.
Toronto, London and Waterloo all have policy frameworks to meet the housing challenge. They also have Social Planning Councils that lead community planning efforts. Brantford torpedoed its Social Planning Council in 2007.
Brantford’s Social Planning Council was in the act of launching a ten-year study of the socio-impact of the Brantford Charity Casino. City council axed the Social Planning Council to prevent any negative findings that might cast its cash cow in a negative light.
If the casino impact study had gone ahead it would be complete by now. The data produced would give the city a starting point for a made-in-Brantford affordable housing strategy.
Brantford city council needs to reconstitute its Social Planning Council. It is time to meet the challenges faced by the city head-on, with community dialogue and facts-based planning.
The current black-eye Brantford is getting in the national media is well-deserved. Brantford city council has failed miserably to protect the public interest in axing the Social Planning Council. They prefer to munch on tea and cookies instead.
The author was a member of the Brantford Social Planning Council from 2005 to 2007.