A wide-ranging review of health and social issues in Norfolk and Haldimand has identified priorities for remediation going forward.
They include mental health and substance abuse, poverty and homelessness, and “rurality,” which refers to the fact that the two counties are vast, rural in character, and have low population densities.
The findings are contained in a 42-page report prepared by Kim Shippey of Port Dover, president of KMJ Consultants. The completion of the “Haldimand and Norfolk Community Safety and Well-Being Plan” and its conclusions were the subject of a press conference at Governor Simcoe Square Tuesday.
“Today is an important milestone for our community as the finalization of the plan provides a clear path forward to addressing some of the complex public health issues both Haldimand and Norfolk face,” Mayor Kristal Chopp said.
“This plan identifies major barriers to health and wellness that our community members are encountering and contains actions that we can, and will take, to minimize if not eliminate these barriers.”
The Ford government mandated municipalities to prepare community safety and well-being plans in 2019. The objective was to identify priority issues for remediation and communicate these to the province so it can target program spending efficiently and appropriately.
To that end, Heidy VanDyk, Norfolk and Haldimand’s acting general manager of health and social services, said KMJ Consultants and associated contributors considered 741 community surveys, 86 stakeholder interviews, and 11 focus groups.
Among those providing input were police, paramedic services, social-service agencies, and private-sector organizations representing local chambers of commerce and the like.
At Tuesday’s event, Shippey said it was an honour to moderate a process leading to such an important document. Her report, Shippey said, will help focus local attention on the key issues identified and – in so doing – facilitate a co-ordinated response among stakeholders at the local and provincial level.
“That was a privilege for me – to share the collective voice of the community,” Shippey said. “This is such an important document. It’s a living document.”
Bill Cridland, Norfolk’s operations manager, spoke about a specific project arising from the safety and wellness consultation.
During the pandemic lockdown, Governor Simcoe Square was largely dormant. Gradually, the east lawn of the property became a hangout for people, many of whom have substance abuse issues.
Littering became a problem, as did the disposal of dangerous items such as used hypodermic needles and foil packets associated with the trafficking of fentanyl. The flower beds on the east side of Governor Simcoe Square were a convenient place to toss these items, so staff had them taken out.
Cridland said the area will be re-landscaped to provide fewer hiding places for substance-abuse paraphernalia. He added there are plans to improve lighting at Governor Simcoe Square to discourage loitering, substance abuse, and illegal activities associated with it.
For its part, “rurality” emerged as a local priority, in part, because many people in rural areas needing the support of the health-care system and social-service agencies have unique challenges not seen in urban areas.
Cities tend to have well-developed, reliable transit systems and support services within walking distance of residential areas. The vast geography and long distances between urban areas of Norfolk and Haldimand, Shippey said, raise safety and wellness issues that cities don’t have to contend with.