W5 Documentary – Opioid Epidemic

I have received a number of Facebook messages, emails and telephone calls since last night’s airing on W5 of the Vice Media production “Steel Town Down”.  Some have been concerned with how the documentary portrayed our community, some with what the City is/is not doing to address the issues raised in the documentary and some with what I did/did not know about opioid abuse in our community.  To put it simply, the responses that I have received have been very mixed but consistently concerned.  I thought it would be helpful to offer my perspective.  

First, I think we need to acknowledge and recognize that there are a lot of people in our community that struggle with substance abuse.  These people are often marginalized and they need the support of our larger community.  The opioid crisis that has spread across the Country is here and we are dealing with it, as best we can, on very limited resources. We need to do more, and do better, and the community at large, especially those that are in need, need to know we are trying.  

There is a critical gap in services available in Sault Ste. Marie.  Sault Area Hospital (SAH) has applied to the North East Local Health Integrated Network and the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care for funding to improve our community’s infrastructure and the services that are offered here.   I have supported these efforts. SAH will be at our next Council meeting outlining the project for Council (and the community) and we will commit to help SAH get the funding it needs.  It is important to note that this work was going on before, and independent of, the documentary.  

With respect to the documentary itself, it was filmed in November.  I met Desiree Beck from the Group Health Centre earlier in the fall at the Recovery Luncheon.  I was asked to bring greetings on behalf of the City.  I attended to show my support and encouragement for people in recovery, those trying to get to recovery and the family, friends and frontline workers who provide a critical support network.  Desiree and I met at the luncheon and we agreed that she should come to City Hall to so we could speak further.  She wanted to give me a sense of what she is dealing with in the community and I wanted to hear from her.  We set up that meeting and the short clip featured on W5 was from that meeting.  

I was aware Fentanyl was in our community and that our paramedics are administering Narcan with greater frequency.  I was aware of the larger socio-economic and mental health challenges in our community that relate to substance abuse.  I have spent the largest part of my mayoralty trying to create a system whereby we deal with these challenges more effectively.  I was not aware of the actual number of overdoses per month until the director of the documentary threw the statistic into the meeting from off camera.  No one had (or has) ever provided me with the actual overdose statistics.  That is not to say that the City does not recognize or is not aware of the overarching problem. It does and is.             

A lot of people are really bothered by how our community is portrayed in the documentary. Many people feel that the documentary was imbalanced and partial to a narrow perspective.  I agree that we do live in a beautiful, caring and engaging city. There are a lot of positive things happening (and a number of really good initiatives) across our community which can rightly make us proud of our community and embrace it as a great place to live.  However, we have to recognize that what we saw in the documentary is real and that it is happening here.  We have to recognize that people are struggling, that families are in turn struggling and that people are dying.  This community, the one that is struggling with substance abuse issues, exists alongside and within our larger community.  We will not be helpful to the people in our community that need our help if we don’t start by acknowledging that the need exists.  It is why I went to the recovery luncheon to speak on behalf of the community.   It is why we support the Neighborhood Resource Centre, the Algoma Leadership Table and the United Way Poverty Plan. It is why I met with Desiree Beck. For all of the great things about our city and happening in our city, substance abuse and the opioid epidemic are real and they are here.  And I want those people who are suffering and fighting through these challenges to know that they are important, that we acknowledge their challenge and that we are working to get them the support they need.       

Growing support for those who could use a boost

I had the pleasure of checking out the Food Bank Farm in Sault Ste. Marie this year.

The work being done by Colin and Sharon Templeton, along with their team, is having a significant impact on our community.

The Food Bank Farm operates on a not-for-profit basis and fresh, quality food is distributed to local families in need.

“At the height of our season we were delivering fresh produce twice a week to the Soup Kitchen,” reads a newsletter put together by the group.

“When we add it all up we delivered approximately $13,000 worth of food to the Soup Kitchen. Not a bad year with very poor weather.”

The Food Bank Farm is launching a new initiative I’d like you to be aware of. The team wants members of the community to become Food Bank Farmers.

They want local gardeners to plant an extra row of veggies that will be given to local families. The farm plans to establish drop-off locations where people can leave their donations.

If you’re interested in being a part of this initiative, contact project coordinator Ayushi Shah at planning@foodbankfarm.ca or 705-255-1459.

This is a great example of innovative thinking from members of our city, and we can all help take this to the next level by getting involved.

Working together to create an environment where success is attainable

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Moonlight Magic and the Community Tree Lighting Ceremony brought plenty of people to the downtown area last week.

I was one of many people who enjoyed a fun night, thanks to the help of staff from the City of Sault Ste. Marie and the Downtown Association. It was a meaningful experience to be able to share such a great evening with my family and our community.

This event is an example of working together to help everyone succeed. Along with the City and the Downtown Association, volunteers and business leaders stepped up to donate their time and financial support. In that respect, I want to recognize and thank: Arauco, First General, GFL Environmental, Mayor’s Youth and Advisory Committee, McDougall Energy, Mustang Sally, PUC Services Inc. and Tim Hortons.

The crowd that packed Queen Street for the tree lighting stuck around to do some shopping at stores that stayed opened late. Outside the box, creative thinking led to pairing Moonlight Magic and the Community Christmas Tree Lighting last year. One year later, it was once again a well-attended evening.

The downtown strategy is an another example of positive action we have taken. Since the strategy was approved by City Council, the city has initiated beautification efforts to revitalize the area. Parts of the downtown now have new sidewalks, landscaping and street furniture. New businesses have opened up, bringing new shopping and dining options.

While we have made progress, there is still work to be done. The steps we have taken to date are only part of the process. I am committed to ensuring the growth will continue into the new year and beyond.

Highlighting growth in downtown Sault Ste. Marie

There has been plenty of exciting activity of late in our city’s downtown and I encourage everyone to take some time to explore what our community has to offer.

From restaurants popping up to feed a variety of different tastes, to a new beauty salon, tattoo parlour, real estate agency and radio station, there is quite a cool cluster of businesses developing downtown and throughout our city.

Neeta Marwah is now offering Punjabi and Indian cuisine at Rasoi, the Indian Kitchen on Queen Street East. I had the chance to stop by and grab a bite. Neeta’s presence in the downtown area is a welcome addition.

Speaking of growth on Queen Street; Lavish Salon, SOO Blaster and StreetCity Realty Inc. have recently opened locations in the downtown area. In other parts of the city, Discover the Canvas and KFM Radio have also set up shop.

The hyperlinks included below provide you with some background information about the variety of new and exciting businesses, but I encourage people to check these spots out in person and a great opportunity to do so is coming up later this week.

The Downtown Association is hosting ‘Moonlight Magic’ on Thursday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Queen Street will be closed to traffic from Pim to Dennis Street. Stores will be open late to provide people with the chance to do some late-night shopping. There are also fun activities planned like a free hot chocolate competition and bed races, along with the community tree lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. I hope to see you there.

Rasoi, The Indian Kitchen: https://www.sootoday.com/local-news/sault-gets-punjabi-diner-just-in-time-for-diwali-743272

SOO Blaster: https://www.sootoday.com/local-news/new-restaurantarcade-coming-to-queen-street-2-photos-655209

StreetCity Realty Inc: https://www.sootoday.com/local-news/new-sault-real-estate-agency-celebrates-official-opening-3-photos-744622

Lavish Salon: https://www.facebook.com/lavishsalonSSM/

Discover the Canvas: http://northernontario.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1228105

KFM Radio: https://www.sootoday.com/local-news/sault-ste-maries-first-christian-radio-station-hits-the-airwaves-7-photos-728166

National attention for local leaders

Members of Sault Ste. Marie’s business community have been receiving national attention for their achievements and I want to highlight these success stories.

The EXIT Realty Lake Superior team of Kristen Trembinski, Rob Trembinski and Jamie Coccimiglio are EXIT Canada’s 2017 Canadian Broker of the Year.

The Trembinski’s ties to real estate in the city run deep. Kristen and Rob’s grandfather, William McPherson, and father, Terry Trembinski, worked in the real estate profession for many years. Kristen and Rob continue to carry forward the family legacy to this day.

Brie Gallagher is another local leader receiving attention for her work. Brie’s renovation of a home in the city was recognized as an ‘Instagram-Worthy Oasis’ by HGTV’s Great Canadian Homes. Brie has moved home after graduating from the Ontario College of Art and Design. She runs BRIETAKESPICTURES and BRIEMAKESSPACES in the Sault.

The recently held business pitch competition put on by the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation is a great representation of how we can help turn potential future leaders into success stories like the aforementioned examples.

Sarah Huckson captured the grand prize (valued at $15,000) for her business, Scott Coffee Co. Alex Benzin and Nicole Findlay finished second and took home $5,000 for Ontario Wild. This competition is an important way to foster the spirit of entrepreneurialism in our youth and show them what’s possible.

Thanks to all involved with the process and I also want to express gratitude to the sponsors who stepped up to help support the initiative. When we work together as a community the road to success becomes easier to navigate.

#AmazonNorth

There has been a lot of discussion about the City’s Amazon bid since Councillors Shoemaker and Grandinetti’s #AmazonNorth motion received the endorsement and support of City Council. As most are likely aware, the submission was developed by the City working with the EDC and SSMIC and it has now been submitted. There is a cool website which you can visit here https://amazonnorth.ca (we need to recognize Jeff Greco and the team at Cavera for putting together such a great website).

Quite aside of whether or not we are considered further, there are a number of takeaways from this effort that I believe are worth reflecting on and I want to focus on these:

1. Teamwork:  Everyone involved in this process and the community at large can be proud of the bid document that was submitted. It came together quickly, was very well done and the result of the City, the EDC and SSMIC all rowing in the same direction. As I noted above, we had some private sector assistance with the website that was exceptional. This is a good showcase of what the City and its partners can do when they work together.

2. Positivity:  One of the great outcomes from this bid is the conversations that it has created. There was, as with most things, an opposing perspective that suggested we shouldn’t have spent the time or effort. However, it appeared to me that perspective became the smaller part of a larger conversation that grew around why we should have submitted a bid and that conversation was rooted in a lot of positive comments about our community and our potential. We have a lot to be proud of here in Sault Ste. Marie. We live in a tremendous community of strong people and a rich history that is an epicenter of political and environmental stability. There are a lot of great reasons why people would want to live here and companies should want to locate here and we need to make a more concerted effort to talk about that and celebrate it.

3. Effort: It is easier to make a case why #AmazonNorth won’t happen then it is to make the case why it could but that did not deter Councillor Shoemaker and the committee from making the case and making it very well. We should recognize and applaud this effort because, as a community, we have to be willing to make the more challenging case and take on what may appear to be out-sized tasks. Hitting singles and doubles is important but so is swinging for the fence. We can do both and there is no good reason why we shouldn’t.

Special thank you to Councillors Shoemaker and Grandinetti for drafting the motion and to them and Councillor Myers for assisting City, EDC and SSMIC staff on developing the bid package. Job well done. Let’s keep at it. Stay together as a team, be positive and swing for the fences once in a while. We won’t lose if we do.