A working group will be formed to address security and mental health concerns in parts of the city.
That staff recommendation, approved by council committee at its meeting Monday, didn’t sit well with one councillor.
Coun. Pat Hehn noted discussions on the matter began in 2020, when the Orillia Public Library included a security guard as part of its budget request to address safety concerns at the downtown facility. Library staff felt “ill equipped” to handle certain situations, including overdoses and altercations, she said.
When council turned down that request, another was made — for an outreach worker to focus on the library and, possibly, other downtown areas.
During 2022 budget talks, council put aside $73,000 for the new position, pending a report from staff.
Hehn shared her “dismay” at the recommendation in that report Monday. It included a working group that would “evaluate and recommend to council the best approach to assist the city in dealing with the mental health, provision of outreach services, and socioeconomic challenges observed and experienced in municipal facilities and the Business Improvement Area.”
The group will also “evaluate current situations in the downtown, as well as at the library, the Orillia Recreation Centre and the Orillia City Centre.”
That took the focus area too far, according to Hehn, council’s representative on the library board, who wondered how that would be doable for an outreach worker — a “magical person with a flying carpet or cannon to jettison her” from one area to another, maybe?
“It just can’t be done,” she said. “Let's not set ourselves up for failure. We need to be realistic and start small and build on our successes.”
She wanted to vote for Option 2: “that council support the business case as submitted by the library board for the creation of a community outreach worker position for the library.”
Coun. Jay Fallis agreed.
“This is spreading ourselves really thin in terms of what … service we’re trying to provide here,” he said.
“I think it’s a good intention, but I don’t think it accomplishes specifically for the library what we initially set out to accomplish.”
Coun. Ted Emond noted the staff report doesn’t suggest one outreach worker would be deployed to all of the areas mentioned in the report, but that a working group would determine the needs for each of those areas.
Library board members and staff aren’t the experts, he said, adding the issue “needs to be filtered through a group of professional eyes.”
The working group will include representation from the Ontario Provincial Police, Downtown Orillia Management Board, Orillia Public Library and, possibly, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the County of Simcoe. It will also include a community member with social services skills (to be determined by Mayor Steve Clarke and chief administrative officer Gayle Jackson).
The working group will provide recommendations in a report to council no later than April 11.