Rain won’t stop homeless campout

OWEN SOUND – As preparations were made Friday for Safe ‘n Sound’s second annual overnight campout to raise awareness and some money to combat homelessness, the rain started.

Organizers want to remind people that some around us do camp in all kinds of weather because they have to. Richard Suchow, the manager at the downtown drop-in and homeless referral agency, plans to pitch tarps, a tent and camp behind the centre at 310 8th St. E.

“We’ll brave the elements as long as we’re able to do that without being ridiculous and freezing to death,” Suchow said as the rain already started to fall over the lunch hour. “Where unlike true homelessness, we can go in and get warm and come back out.”

The centre will be open all night to support campers, who may simply wrap themselves in blankets and sleeping bags and sit on chairs through the night, Suchow said.

He and three other volunteers, Bill Baker, Shawn McMann and Lynn Dilworth, sat on a bench behind the centre with sleeping bags in hand and talked about homelessness and what they’re trying to do about it.

The citizen-led agency opened in spring, 2009. It offers a place to meet, lockers to store belongings and get help accessing resources. Arrangements for after-hours emergency shelter are made here too.

Safe ‘n Sound receives $2,000 per month from Grey County to help cover expenses but the operation runs mostly on volunteers.

Baker is responsible for the storeroom where donated clothing and toiletries are given to people in need. He said local people are very generous. He planned to hand out available sleeping bags Friday night.

McMann is currently couch surfing and declined to discuss his personal circumstances. But he volunteers at the centre and does Dilworth, who was homeless 2 1/2 years ago after a marital breakup left her with little more than a backpack of belongings. Now she accommodates homeless people on her couch and even in a tent and in her backyard.

Suchow said the agency always needs money and volunteers in a variety of capacities, including web design and even someone with a truck to pick up donations. But the educational part of Friday night’s event is just as important, he said.

“Unfortunately, when you’re in poverty and homelessness the people feel less of themselves.

And they really feel like they’re under the microscope,” Suchow said. And so, he said, homeless people are often apologetic when caught sleeping in stairways and bank machine enclosures.

“I think it’s because people don’t understand homelessness. And so they don’t realize this isn’t a bad person because they are homeless. That we see middle-class families in some cases have lost everything. It just happens.”

Saturday morning at the Queen’s Park bandstand along 1st Ave. W., speakers will talk about homelessness, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller will make an appearance and Owen Sound Mayor Deb Haswell is scheduled to make remarks about 10 a.m.

To donate money online, go to Canadahelps.org and search Safe ‘n Sound Residence. To learn about volunteer opportunities or to arrange to donate materials, call 519-470-7233.


Bus operators need to be encouraged to come here

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Saturday, October 5, 2013 4:58:09 EDT PM

The closure of Owen Sound’s bus terminal and Greyhound’s decision to cut its routes to the city has put a spotlight on transportation issues in our area.

Specifically, it has highlighted the importance of intercity bus service to rural communities.

Students attending school in Toronto, London, Barrie and elsewhere, for example, rely on the bus to get to and from their rural Ontario homes.

People use the bus to get to hospitals in major Ontario cities, to visit family in southern Ontario and to access services not found locally. Some people just want to hop aboard a bus to spend time in Toronto.

Despite the need for bus transportation, options for people in rural Ontario, including Grey-Bruce, continue to decline.

Greyhound now only makes one trip daily into and out of Owen Sound. The bus takes people to Toronto via Collingwood and Barrie. Aboutown Northlink only makes a trip between Owen Sound and London three times a week.

People wanting to get to Orangeville, KitchenerWaterloo, Guelph, Hamilton or other cities must transfer to another bus in Toronto or London. It can be a long trip.

The provincial government should step up and do something about this transportation shortage. More should be done to encourage bus companies to make the trek to and from Owen Sound.

Part of the problem, it seems, is Ontario’s current regulatory framework for intercity bus transportation.

Companies must apply to the Ontario Highway Transport Board to receive a permit before it can operate a new route.

John Emberson, president of Coach Canada, said the process is time consuming and expensive. The applicant must provide a business plan, among other things, to the board.

Other companies can object to the permit request, he said, and the board will often side with the firm that currently offers the same or a similar route.

The process limits competition, he said, and can allow some companies to hold a monopoly on certain routes.

Coach Canada, which owns more than 200 buses, is among the companies lobbying the province to deregulate the system.

Alberta and Manitoba have done it. Alberta implemented a new modernized framework in 2011. Companies there now have the option of running a smaller bus for certain routes or creating a flexible schedule without, as happened in the past, having their application objected to by existing carriers, which would have triggered a full-blown hearing.

It’s time for Ontario to take a serious look at doing the same.

There are also calls from outside of the industry for the province to make changes to improve Ontario’s regional transportation network.

Owen Sound Mayor Deb Haswell, for one, has called on the province to explore ways to encourage more buses to run routes to the city.

The Southwest Economic Alliance (SWEA), meanwhile, is calling on both the provincial and federal governments “to work together to plan and adequately fund a regional transportation network.”

A summit, with politicians, transportation companies and advocacy groups, is scheduled for Nov. 14.

“The objective is to generate cooperation, planning and policy development which will lead to more transportation in southwestern Ontario,” SWEA says.

It is our hope that SWEA will have luck with its campaign.

However, it’s important that Owen Sound also benefit from any improved regional transportation system.

Without changes, the city could become even more isolated from the rest of southern Ontario.

Owen Sound police board to ponder taxi fare hike

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Thursday, October 3, 2013 10:19:01 EDT AM

The chairman of Owen Sound’s police service board says there is still time for people to comment on a proposal to hike the cost of taxi fares in the city.

Gary Levine says the board has heard from taxi operators who are asking that the bylaw that regulates fares be changed so that all companies must charge a flat rate of $9 per trip, taxes included, within city limits.

The bylaw now allows taxi companies to charge a maximum of $8 per ride. Some operators charge $6.

Levine said the board has not yet received comments from the public, something he said he welcomes.

“The more people that provide feedback the better so that we’re not making the decision in isolation,” he said in an interview.

Without public comments, a motion to increase fares to $9 could be made at the next Owen Sound Police Service board meeting on Oct. 23, he said.

Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey, said she is concerned about increases in taxi fares, especially since the “most marginalized” people typically rely on them the most.

“For a lot of people, it’s just more of a burden on people who simply don’t have the money in their budgets to adjust to that burden,” she said.

The proposed increase also comes at a time when the city plans to increase bus fares by 10% in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and reduce routes from four to three, she said.

“Those issues should not be dealt with in isolation,” she said.

Rob Taylor, owner of Redline Taxi in Owen Sound, said he would like to see all cab operators charging the same price.

“We have to have a little bit of an increase to keep up with gas prices, insurance, maintenance, and to make sure that our drivers get a fair share as well,” he said.

Taxi fare prices are set by the Owen Sound Police Service board. The bylaw has set a maximum fare of $8 since at least 2002.

Levine said people wanting to provide feedback on the proposed fare increase should do so by Oct. 23.

They can do so by e-mailing Levine at glevine@docpc.com or the board’s administrative assistant Kelly Jo Calver at kcalver@owensoundpolice.com.

People rally to save transit terminal

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Monday, September 30, 2013 4:38:24 EDT PM


John McLoughlin said he’s been flying an Owen Sound flag outside of his home for 20 years.

He returned it to city hall Monday as a way, he said, of expressing his disappointment with council’s decision to shutter the city’s bus terminal.

The depot on 3rd Ave. E., which the city was to close for good at 6:30 p.m. Monday, is a symbol of the city’s “concern for the less fortunate,” he said, including the poor and people with disabilities who rely on public transit to get around and use the terminal for its washrooms or to seek shelter.

“The appearance, at least, is that no one cares,” he said Monday afternoon during a rally at the terminal. “That’s what annoys me.”

About 100 people attended the “Don’t Kill the Terminal” protest, organized by the United Way of Bruce Grey.

Executive director Francesca Dobbyn said she hopes the event will send a message to council that people are not happy with the decision to close the terminal.

“This place is a resource. It’s a washroom. This building is warm when it’s cold outside and is cool when it’s hot outside,” she told the crowd.

Janice Currie, chairwoman of the city’s accessibility advisory committee, said the terminal houses one of the only two accessible public washrooms in the downtown. The other is at the Owen Sound Farmer’s Market.

It is also a place where people, including those with mental or physical disabilities, can receive assistance with navigating the transit system, she said.

“It’s a safe place and a valued resource,” she said.

City council decided in June to close the terminal as a way to reduce the ballooning cost of the transit system. The move is expected to save the city about $90,000 a year. It was also seen as a way to move from a four-route system to one with three routes, which, according to city staff, will cut the system’s cost by another $130,000 to $150,000 a year.

Even though the building will be locked, the terminal property will continue to be used as a transfer point and bus stop until this spring when the new three-route model is implemented.

City council has been told that it would cost about $9,600 a month to keep the terminal open and staffed by one city employee from Oct. 1 to March 31. It would cost about $4,500 a month to keep it open without a staff person there, but neither city staff nor Owen Sound police are not recommending that option.

Coun. Peter Lemon said he will try to bring back up for discussion Oct. 7 a staff report that includes those cost estimates in hopes council will vote to reverse its decision to close the terminal. Council voted 5-4 Sept. 23 to only “note and file” the report.

Supporters of the terminal are also being encouraged to attend that council meeting.

Dobbyn has said she would like the depot to remain open at least over winter to provide time for a “community conversation” about what to do after it closes.

Kim Bolyea, who carried a sign at the rally that read “Honk to keep bus station open,” said she uses public transit almost everyday and the central terminal is vital.

“You don’t want to be stuck out in the cold waiting for another bus,” she said.

John Christie, a former city councillor who worked as a bus driver from 1985 to 2003, said the terminal is also important to drivers who must adhere to a tight schedule.

“Now it’s like they’re going to take away their chance to, in three or four minutes, use the facilities or have a coffee,” he said.

Don Campbell, a musician from Toronto, said he was shocked to learn the Owen Sound terminal is going to close. He arrived there Monday afternoon on a Greyhound bus so he could play a gig at The River Cafe.

He said he might change his mind about coming here if there is no terminal at the end of his bus route.

“If this isn’t here, what am I supposed to do? Stand outside in the rain with my guitar and luggage in the rain,” he said during the protest.

About 300,000 passengers each year use Owen Sound Transit, according to city hall. The cost of the system was expected to reach $1.2 million this year, about $500,000 more than was budgeted. A main chunk of the increase was attributed to the cost to repair the city’s current fleet of buses.

Changes approved by council, including contracting First Student Canada to both operate the system and use its buses and moving to a three-route system, are expected to reduce the annual cost of the system to $648,000. Council also voted to hike bus fares by 10% in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and end Saturday service 90 minutes earlier.