By Stephen Petrick
Momentum is growing for Haliburton County’s ambitious community well-being and safety plan, after Dysart et al council approved the project at a recent meeting.
County chief administrative officer Mike Rutter delivered a delegation to councillors at a virtual meeting on Feb. 8, after which they voted to support the plan, which is designed to address homelessness, poverty, mental health issues and health care access.
By voting to approve the plan, Dysart et al council has endorsed the idea of starting a seven-member advisory board that would discuss these issues.
That board would consist of five councillors plus one provincial appointee, and one community appointee. The plan and the advisory group would be administered by Haliburton County.
Minden Hills council also endorsed the plan at their meeting on Feb. 8. The plan has yet to come to Algonquin Highlands and Highlands East council tables, but their support will be needed to get it going.
The ultimate goal of the plan is to bring various different organizations in the county together so there’s a co-ordinated effort to solve numerous social problems, such as a lack of housing and high poverty rates.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, Mayor Andrea Roberts explained that the province recently ordered municipalities to have community safety and well-being plans. But no one at Dysart et al council was complaining about that direction; there was clear excitement for the plan.
Councillor Larry Clarke praised the plan, saying that “a lot of these groups work in silos. It’s apparent that issues such as housing or food security cross multiple areas of support and need.”
He added that he feels it will be important for groups to co-ordinate their efforts, so work isn’t duplicated.
Councillor John Smith also supported working on these issues and suggested more effort should be made to help service groups find a way to contribute to social issues.
“If you can identify different ways for people to make a difference in this community, beyond simply writing a cheque, I think that would meet the power and potential of people to contribute so much,” he said, offering advice to Rutter.
Haliburton County officials have been getting ready for this initiative for some time. Several months ago, Haliburton County hired StrategyCorp, a firm that offers strategic planning services for communities, to write a report and outline goals for the county.
The report was released in January and it contained a trove of statistics that showed the daunting challenges that lie ahead.
It said that the unemployment rate in the county has fluctuated around two points above the provincial average of 7.4 per cent, at 9.6 per cent. Also Haliburton County has a child poverty rate of 23 per cent and an overall poverty rate of 17.2 per cent.
The report also said that in 2019, 13.5 per cent of households in Haliburton County and Kawartha Lakes faced food access challenges. And, on education, the report noted that 16.1 per cent of county residents do not have a high school diploma. And the rate of those aged 25 to 64 with post-secondary education is 55.6 per cent, down from the provincial rate of 67 per cent.
The report also said that “housing stock is significantly low in the county” yet population is on the rise, as it grew 5.9 per cent between 2011 and 2016.
Earlier in the meeting, Rutter spoke about the importance of having this type of data available, as it previously wasn’t conveniently available; StrategyCorp has to find it by gathering it from several different sources.
“We need to have better information to make better decisions,” he said, adding that the county has budgeted to hire a co-ordinator who will maintain data and oversee the well-being plan.
He also said the plan will ultimately allow Haliburton County to address issues before they become problems.
“It really is about becoming more proactive in addressing these issues and less reactive,” he said.