Opinion Editorial

City shouldn't waste time helping Salvation Army outreach

 The Packet & Times

Bureaucracy at any level is frustrating. It can slow progress, mar development, strangle growth and cause frustration. Sometimes, it can even prove life-threatening. And while that would be a dramatic overstatement of what’s happening in Orillia, the plague of bureaucracy could mean some of our most vulnerable citizens will not be able to enjoy a hot meal this week.

At the most recent city council meeting, our elected municipal leaders learned there had been a complaint — its nature and origins undisclosed — about the Salvation Army’s use of a downtown parking lot as its once-a-week headquarters for its mobile outreach program.

Since January 2016, the local Salvation Army has been using the ‘Heritage’ parking lot off Colborne Street between West and Peter streets for its Friday-night street outreach initiative. “We don’t know who made the complaint or what it’s related to,” said Orillia Salvation Army commanding officer captain Chad Ingram, who noted volunteers ensure the parking lot is left in pristine condition.

The complaint sparked a process that ended up on council’s lap. Instead of making a decision, council did what most councils do: It referred the problem and asked the legislative services department to prepare a report for council committee to recommend a course of action. And therein lies the problem of the bureaucracy that is city hall, where fear of making an unpopular decision and dread about the fallout of a ruling paralyze those who are elected to make decisions.

This should be a no-brainer. Since January, the Salvation Army program has served nearly 2,800 hot, nutritious meals in the downtown area — that’s almost 100 every Friday night. On top of that, the team behind the project includes a local family doctor and the program provides personal-care products and essentials like underwear, socks and mittens. It’s also a safe refuge where fellowship prevails, where the milk of human kindness runs freely and where those in need feel hope and love.

For the Salvation Army, its three team leaders and 32 volunteers who ensure the program’s success, it is a labour of love. They don’t advertise the program but rely on word-of-mouth, and it’s a strategy that works. In fact, such is the need in the community, the Salvation Army has acquired a new mobile food truck with the capacity to cook and serve 500 meals a day.

For now, the mobile program has, thanks to the generosity of a local business, moved down the street. The space is smaller and it’s less than ideal, but it their only option while they wait for city hall to consider their formal request to use the downtown parking lot.

It’s not as if this is virgin territory, either. Several years ago, city council gave its blessing for the Salvation Army to operate its mobile outreach program at the city-owned Morningstar Park. The downtown lot is, simply, a better location. It’s too bad city council couldn’t, at the very least, have granted temporary permission for it to continue using the downtown lot while the request makes it way, officially, through city hall’s bureaucracy. In the meantime, we are left to wonder how this indecision will impact our most vulnerable citizens and what message these bureaucratic machinations might send to them and those who strive to help them.

— The Packet & Times

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