The launch has been known for its elaborate ways of unveiling the organization’s annual campaign goals, like last year when organizers shot basketballs into nets attached to skyjacks.
Held at the Royal City Church in downtown Guelph, this year’s campaign goal was maybe mentioned once or twice as being $3.4 million, with the event mostly highlighting the work that is being done concerning the city’s homelessness and addiction issues.
There was chit-chat and laughter over a pancake breakfast attended by local politicians, dignitaries, business owners and those with the United Way, but it was all business after that.
Former chief of police Jeff DeRuyter is serving as this year’s campaign chair, and said the launch didn’t need all the fanfare.
“We’re looking at some significant social issues,” he said.
“It really seemed appropriate to talk about where we’re at and maybe a little bit more sobering and a little less of the rah-rah.”
Speeches by DeRuyter, Mayor Cam Guthrie and Ken Dardano, the United Way’s executive director in Guelph, along with a four-person panel of those on the front lines emphasized what is being done to help drive that message home.
Earlier this year, the United Way pledged $160,000 to the mayor’s task force on homelessness and community safety.
It helped fund the installation of a Supportive Recovery Room at the Drop-In Centre for people going through an addiction or mental health crisis. It’s expected to open with five beds in October.
The funding also helped launch the Welcoming Streets initiative that sees support workers in downtown Guelph who work with businesses and respond to people in crisis.
Executive Director of the Guelph Community Health Centre, Raechelle Devereaux, said other communities as far away as Germany are now looking to the Royal City to see how these initiatives work.
“We continue to have busloads of individuals come to find out what is happening in this community where we welcome complexity and build comprehensive solutions for people who matter,” she said during the panel session.
The task force also relaunched an addiction court support worker program, which provides a counsellor who connects those in bail court with addiction services and supports.
Rayanne Thompson has been filling that role since May and has connected with 36 individuals.
“Her caseload is growing quicker than she can address and that’s a sign of need, but it’s also a really positive endorsement of what the program is,” said Kerry Mathenga with Stonehenge Therapeutic Community said.
During the panel session, Chief of Police Gord Cobey said the service will do their part, but reminded those in attendance that they are not health care professionals in what is a health crisis.
“As a community, we have a bit of work to do so that the appropriate resources are available in a timely and effective manner so that it is not deemed to be a policing issue,” he said.
Since being named chief, Cobey has directed new officers to walk the beat in the downtown during their first few shifts.
“Having members of our service walking downtown — it’s not about enforcement, it’s not about arrests, it’s about being engaged, being known and being present,” he said.
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The mayor said he’s been trying to get permanent funding from upper levels of government for the initiatives outlined in the task force, but for now, this is an issue the community will have to tackle.
“The United Way is really going to be helping, as they have for this first initial launch this year of the priorities from the task force, and these issues will also come back to council in December at budget time,” he said.
Council approved $302,000 in funding for the initiatives in the previous budget.
While funding will continue to be an issue, Guthrie said he’s thrilled about the results that have already come from that task force that was launched in January.