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Why are the police always going to Queensgate Boulevard?

The little street adjacent to White Pines has had 229 police visits in less than two years
File photo. James Hopkin/SooToday

On Queensgate Boulevard, off Trunk Road next to White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School, there are two group homes, with just one private residence separating them.

Those two group homes became the focus of a discussion at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

Queensgate Boulevard is a short street, but Ward 1 Coun. Paul Christian reported police have visited it 229 times since October, 2020.

A few weeks ago, Christian was invited to a neighbourhood meeting of ratepayers who live near the two homes.

About 20 people attended, sharing stories of serious problems and pointing to the nearly adjacent group homes as the cause.

"These residents have witnessed clients verbally and physically attacking care staff," Christian said.

"Residents have witnessed these clients knocking on doors [of private residences], trying to get in."

"The staff of the group homes are parking  on the street, which limits the ability of city services to provide their services, whether it's plowing or garbage collection."

Several neighbours reported seeing one client of a group home lying in the middle of the street.

"On Jan. 22 at 1:30 in the morning, there were three police cruisers outside, woke up the neighbour. They were combing the neighbourhood looking for one of the clients."

"Next day, the staff of the group home were out. According to the residents, the group home staff told them they were attempting to find a stash of drugs that they presumed was on the premises."

The neighbours made it clear to Christian that they understand the importance of group homes.

"I tip my hat to the care staff there," the councillor said. 

"They have a very, very difficult job. This is no slight on their part. It's just the nature of what they're dealing with."

"But having two of them in such close proximity, it just exacerbates a very difficult situation."

Christian and fellow Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth convinced their City Council colleagues to prepare a report on the possibility of a bylaw similar to one passed in Burlington Ont. requiring a minimum 400-metre buffer between group homes.

"I think it's a little unusual to have two of them on one street," Christian said.

"In all fairness, I think that's something that could be shared. I think these residents are carrying most of the load."

"These people, they're not trying to ban group homes. They're not trying to limit group homes."

"I'm asking city councillors to put themselves in their shoes, and also to consider how you might approach it if you had similar residents in your ward."

Coun. Hollingsworth said she wanted to attend the neighbourhood meeting but she was representing the city at a Federation of Northern Ontarrio Municipalities board meeting in North Bay.

She said it was nonetheless important for her as a councillor to bring ward concerns to City Council for its consideration.

Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour emphasized that not all homes are created equal.

"We have a number of different types of homes in Sault Ste. Marie that are offered," Dufour said.

"Some of them are for-profit social services agencies. If they are relying on city services and not funding the services that they offer properly, that to me represents a different slate of concerns than a nonprofit like Canadian Mental Health Association that runs all ot its mental health beds right outside of my property."

"We do have certain classes of operators that maybe their business model is different than others."

"There's many different ways to thread this bylaw. It's a really important one to get right because we want to see these types of services offered in our community, but also offered in a way that's properly funded to ensure the surrounding impacts to neighbouring residents are minimized," Dufour said.