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Cambridge city councillor backs mobile health clinics in the city

After a mobile health clinic was banned from parking on a Cambridge street, city council will have the opportunity to ask the region for help in a motion coming to council May 28

In the ongoing battle to bring more mobile health clinics to Cambridge and provide space for one already offered, city council will be asked to vote on whether to call on the region for help later this month. 

Ward 7 councilor Scott Hamilton will bring a motion to council on May 28 that asks the region to allow mobile health clinics like Sanguen to park on regionally owned land to reach the people it serves. 

Sanguen was forced to move its van from a spot on Market Street, next to the Bridges shelter in downtown Galt, after neighbouring business owners and residents complained to the city.

The medical outreach workers staffing the van offer health services, naloxone kits, emergency contraception, clothing, testing for sexually transmitted infections and supportive counselling.

"This is a City of Cambridge problem, it's a regional problem it's all of our problems, we have to do something," said Hamilton. "They were offering their services for almost seven years at The Bridges and now people are without potentially life-saving help."

The city informed the Waterloo-based health centre in March that any parking on that street or in the area is not permitted and warned them they will face fines if caught illegally parked. 

Despite getting numerous calls suggesting alternative locations, communications director for Sanguen Julie Kalbfleisch said the van cannot be parked in The Bridges' lot due to privacy concerns for shelter residents and because some of the people they serve are banned from the shelter's property. 

She also explained that since The Bridges is a men's only shelter, any women needing access their services would not be able to enter property. 

Hamilton said the van has been parking there once a week since 2017, offering services to people staying at the shelter and living unhoused in the area. 

While health services are a regional responsibility, Hamilton added that if something like this is going on in the City of Cambridge then it is everyone's issue, including council.

"The motion looks at the current crisis we're in and asks the region to lend some of their land to these organizations," said Hamilton. "This all fits within their Plan to End Chronic Homelessness." 

While Hamilton hopes that everyone is on board, there have been some objections from residents who think the city and region is wasting time and money by putting effort into initiatives like Sanguen. 

"I believe that Sangeun duplicates services that we already have at 150 Main St.," said outspoken Cambridge resident Carol Thorman.

"Resources are so stretched, it seems a little bit ludicrous to offer duplication of services. What we need is funding to go towards rehab, detox beds and mental health support more than anything."

Thorman has been an outspoken advocate against Safe Consumption Sites and harm reduction initiatives in the city, delegating at multiple council meetings.

She added that city council is wasting its time on a motion the region hasn't even looked at. 

"If they thought that this was an important enough issue, they would already have come up with the site for them," she said. 

Over the past few years, Thorman has maintained that residents of Cambridge need to "take back the city" and put an end to what she calls catering to "the low-hanging fruit." 

"When is it enough? But it's left to the public to deal with; the police throw their hands up, social services throw their hands up. When does the public get to say uncle?" 

In a letter to CambridgeToday, Thorman was critical of Sanguen for flouting the rules and ignoring several requests to find another location due to safety concerns.

"Many of their clientele are 'service denied' because they pose a risk to staff, the general public and fail to follow the few rules in place for the safety of all," she wrote.

Hamilton understands the frustrations of the public and said when people don't understand something, one of their first reactions is fear. 

"Whenever you have an increase in the homeless population or in marginalized persons, people can get upset," he added. "I'm not saying that those emotions are wrong or incorrect, but I get it. Our focus should now be on how we reduce the problem."

The Ward 7 councilor likens the mobile health clinic and other social services to a hospital, noting that a hospital doesn't create more sick people, they help people get better and take care of their needs. 

"Just like a hospital, these vans are so important to get services to the people, removing barriers and addressing a real crisis. This isn't something we can just ignore or push out of our town. Everywhere in Ontario is facing the same issues and it is up to us who live here to deal with it compassionately," said Hamilton. 

Cambridge council will now have the opportunity to vote May 28 on whether or not to appeal to the region and ask for help with providing land for services like Sanguen. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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