Mayor Matthew Shoemaker issued an open letter to the residents of Sault Ste. Marie Friday..
Here is the full letter.
To my fellow Saultites,
We’re one week into September, and already our community has faced an array of challenges that have left us feeling unsettled. This week began with sorrow as we mourned the loss of an off-duty police officer in a motor vehicle collision. A day later, another motor vehicle collision claimed the life of a far-too-young community member. Following this, Thursday brought a string of significant police-involved incidents, including an alleged attempted murder, and a suspicious death. In this short span, we have been inundated with distressing news causing anxiety, fear, and a sense of demoralization. Our community is suffering.
Despite a local economy that is strong compared to our recent history, and post-secondary institutions that are growing, we find ourselves falling short of our full potential. While there is no single cause for the struggles we are facing, it is obvious that our community, like so many across Canada, are grappling with a mental health and addictions crisis. The repercussions of the crisis ripple across the continent, from targeted attacks on police property in Sault Michigan, to a shooting in Sudbury, violence in Scarborough, and social unrest in Calgary. People are struggling to cope with the escalating cost of living and housing. Police are regularly attending calls for incidences that were once rare in our community. While the negative headlines are disheartening, they also serve to reinforce our need to keep pushing for change.
On the healthcare file, we have the hospital-run Northway Wellness Centre withdrawal management facility opening soon, yet it is insufficient on its own. We must also implement supervised consumption and treatment services, an approach endorsed by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police as one of the tools that can help treat substance abuse in a community. Additionally, we need a return of the Concurrent Disorders Day Treatment Program, which, when it operated at Sault Area Hospital, helped provide treatment services to those that need to fulfill work and family obligations within Sault Ste. Marie. The collaborative efforts between NOSM University and Algoma University to research and develop mental health and addiction solutions locally offers hope in addressing a continent-wide problem. When discussing NOSM-U, it is crucial we acknowledge the ongoing doctor shortage across Canada, including in the Sault, which exacerbates existing challenges. The City recently lobbied the Province to fix the NOSM-U funding formula, which, if left unresolved, could see NOSM-U limp along at a time when we need them to thrive. Health care is funded by the Province. We can advocate at the City level, but we cannot put City dollars into hospitals, treatment facilities and medical schools. That funding needs to come from the Ontario Government, it says so in the Constitution.
In the area of social supports, we are working overtime to find a solution to Harvest Algoma’s woes, which risks making the inventory shortages that food banks and soup kitchens have faced, even worse. The opening of the Social Services-run Community Resource Centre will see the addition of beds to our emergency overnight shelter and transitional housing stock, filling a critical gap in our community’s resources.
Policing, while not the solution to the challenges, plays an important role in ensuring the safety and security of our downtown, our boardwalk, and overall community. Sault Police’s dynamic downtown patrols have yielded great results, but to further enhance safety, the City is adding private security to the downtown area to make sure we can all feel safe grabbing a coffee at the Queen’s Tarts, or lunch at Sun Kwong. The private security contract was approved at Council on August 28 and should be in place in the coming weeks.
We, at Council, at Sault Ste. Marie Police Services, and in partnership with MPP Romano and MP Sheehan are going to continue to work together to make our city safe, healthy, and the envy of North America. Though there will be days it feels we are moving in slow motion, or moving backwards, we will persist. Progress will come because we cannot and will not settle for anything less.
MATTHEW M. SHOEMAKER