Choices for Change Wingham receives pushback from residents near proposed location

WINGHAM – The proposed United Way initiative to bring Choices for Change to Wingham to help the underprivileged people in North Huron received pushback from two residents, who made a presentation to council on Oct. 3.

The residents are asking for a review of the location, which was accidentally revealed at a Wingham BIA meeting.

The location, St. Paul’s Trinity Anglican Church on John Street, is not appropriate for their neighbourhood, William Wallace and Jeff Ashcroft said. The lack of police presence in town has them concerned about response time if anything were to happen.

“This proposed location, agreed to by the United Way of Perth-Huron, based in Stratford, and St. Paul’s Church in Wingham was not revealed to town council before the announcement at a BIA meeting on Aug. 18, 2022,” Ashcroft said. “Nor was it discussed with the immediate neighbours to the church. Other locations of these connection centers are in Stratford, Exeter, and Listowel. All these communities have local detachments of the OPP, and Wingham does not.

“There are legitimate and real safety concerns for the residents and the youth of this community, who will be in very close proximity to the guests that the centre will be working with. These guests are experiencing a lack of permanent housing, mental health challenges and a varying degree and severity, and drug addiction issues.”

Reeve Bernie Bailey addressed the gentlemen, noting his belief that the current bylaws regarding this centre were followed and “everything that we had to abide by were taken care of.”

Huron County Planner Hannah Holman verified this, saying, “I can speak to this from a zoning bylaw and planning perspective. This particular use is a permitted use on the subject property of the church, which is zoned community facilities.

“So, at least from a planning perspective, under the Planning Act, because it is permitted, they’re not required to do a zoning bylaw amendment. And in that case, there was no public notice required because they didn’t need to do a Planning Act application.”

Bailey stopped the ongoing discussion to clarify what happened at the BIA meeting when the location was revealed.

“I’m going to speak to that, on what I know about what happened here,” he said. “It wasn’t a matter of the United Way not wanting to talk to anybody and you gentlemen were there the night this was explained. One of the representatives that were looking for funding for United Way was at a BIA meeting. And before the proper timing to announce it, because they needed to talk to you folks…she had said that it was going to be there. So that caught United Way staff off guard because, obviously, it looks like they went the long way around. It was not the way they would normally do business but they were kind of playing leapfrog now trying to catch up. The original plan was to discuss this with neighbours and bring this forward, just as a catch up, so that we understand the United Way was not doing anything behind anybody’s back. It was a slip up by an employee.”

Deputy Reeve Trevor Seip indicated that although the Police Services Board would be disbanded as of Dec. 31, he would continue to monitor the situation and provide timely updates to the concerned citizens and council.

The presentation and conversation will be noted in the council minutes so that the incoming council is aware of the issue and can follow up with Wallace and Ashcroft.

Both men were satisfied with the answers they received from council and appreciative of their willingness to listen.

Bailey wrapped up the discussion by saying, “We hope to have a resolution to this and we’ll all meet another day, or some of us will be with you another day, and we’ll discuss this further.”

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times