Last week, Timmins hosted a number of events for World Homeless Day. During one event, information from a study on homelessness in the Cochrane District was presented by Laurentian University Professor Carol Kauppi. She stated that Timmins has the highest number of homeless in the area, at 733 homeless people. She also said that compared to other places in Canada, this region has a particularly high amount of homeless. You can read more on this study’s initial findings here. 

Leading up to the events on World Homeless Day, one business in Timmins has been speaking up about issues facing the downtown area in regards to the city’s homeless and hungry. On Oct. 1st, Pure Addiction Studio’s Facebook page was updated to include this post; a message about the current situations patrons of the business face when occupying the downtown area during the day; incidents including aggressive panhandling and homeless people approaching patrons asking for rides and for cash. The post was written by Billy Harten, on behalf of himself and his wife, Jessica. Both own and operate Pure Addiction Studios, a tattoo studio in downtown Timmins that’s been in operation since 2011. The post raised a call to action for people to share their message and in return, Pure Addiction Studios would donate 10 cents per share to the Living Space, a place for the city’s homeless to go at night.

The post was followed up with this message from Billy and Jessica on the Pure Addiction Studios page on Oct. 5th, explaining what came of meetings they had with the Downtown BIA and the Timmins Police Service.

In creating the post, Harten said he wanted to create awareness for what they as a business were dealing with. He wanted others to speak out as well and instead of looking to outlets where people make small reports, Harten thought it would be better if a larger group came forward with one message.

“I thought it’d be better,” said Harten, “if it was somewhat of a larger group coming forward so it might be looked at [as] a little bit more of a severe issue.”

Harten said he knew in order for people to get on board, he needed to be blunt with his approach and not sugar coat it.

“Say it exactly how we’ve experienced it,” he said, “while still taking […] other people’s emotions and sensitivities to heart. And basically, we [wanted] to direct the attention not only towards the negative but direct our attention […] towards something positive.”

Harten said the response he got from the first post was largely supportive. He said lots of people came forward with stories of their own and he heard from a lot of people that they are staying out of the downtown area as much as they can because of the aggressive panhandling from the city’s homeless. Harten said he’s heard from lots of people that while being downtown at night was always intimidating, the problems are bad during the day as well.

“During the day,” Harten said, “that’s a huge issue as well because that’s actually when the presence of harassment or public intoxication or substance abuse, that’s when it’s actually affecting the 9-5 businesses. So that, to me, is just as severe. And there’s more people to target at that time. More consumers, more civilians to target at that time.”

Harten explained that the problems facing patrons of businesses in the downtown area have been increasing lately to the point where many of his clients are now speaking about incidents they’ve had before entering the studio.

“I think the problem is where,” he said, “[…] before, if someone was asked for money and you said ‘sorry’ and [they would] kind of move along onto the next. Where now it’s getting a lot more of an aggressive, hostile, ornery type response. […] And that’s when the uncomfortability and fear sets in. Because now your response largely depends on your confidence level at that point. […] You’re looking to avoid any further confrontation.”

Harten said, though he did face some negative responses to his post, it’s been mostly met with positive support from residents. He said he was happy the post took on the viral trajectory it did, and that that was his intention.

One of the actions Billy and Jessica took after making the post was to meet with the Downtown BIA. Harten said he didn’t know what to expect before his meeting with BIA Director Noella Rinaldo, but that they had a great experience.

“We discussed what was going on,” Harten said, “[…] it’s no secret to anyone, there’s obviously an issue. Just as the police understood there was an issue. And the mayor understood there was an issue.”

BIA Director, Noella Rinaldo said the Hartens brought forward concerns they’ve heard for a while now and they’ve been working on how to resolve them.

“We had a great two hour meeting,” said Rinaldo, “and we were able to establish that we were on the same page and that we were trying to alleviate some of the issues that all our business owners are dealing with.”

Rinaldo said she told Harten about things he had not been aware of that the BIA has been doing to find solutions to this problem. Among those things was meeting with the Timmins Police Service regularly, and encouraging business owners to file incident reports. Rinaldo said the BIA is struggling with people not filing reports because some of the incidents seem so small and inconsequential. Rinaldo said every incident report helps the police get statistics about the problem so they can find ways to counter it. The BIA is also asking the TPS for more foot patrol downtown but that need has to be warranted by a high number of calls and reports.

“Those kinds of things,” Rinaldo said, “need to be reported to the police because that in turn helps them realize where the problem is. And that may help us in getting some of the issues that we think we may need. Which is either foot patrol or more vehicles in the downtown area.”

Rinaldo says there has been more of a police presence in the downtown all summer and that it’s made a difference. The police are more aware of who is in the downtown, whether it’s someone who is homeless, has mental health issues or addiction issues.

Rinaldo thinks the increase in police foot patrol is a short term solution, but that more attention needs to be on increasing social services like the Living Space, to have a more long term effect on the city’s homeless.

“What’s happening is,” she said, “the businesses are grappling with an issue that really belongs to the community. So, you’re seeing it firsthand in the downtown core because that’s where people go because we’re very generous people. And this is where they’re able to panhandle and get money. So, what happens is the businesses are dealing with those effects. It affects their business sometimes. But, this really is an issue that is community wide.”

Harten agrees that those in the downtown area are affected more by this problem and that it affects their business.

“It’s an issue that’s growing,” he said, “and becoming a lot more dense in a small area.”

Harten said he grappled with the idea of writing a post about this issue and that he was told not to do it by many who care for him.

“This wasn’t an opinion,” he said, “based loosely on something I’ve read […] this is something we’ve dealt with. […] It’s come to a point where we’re actually considering, like, very very seriously considering moving. […] To sit there and watch the surroundings of your business deteriorate, […] we’re trying harder and clients are becoming more unhappy. So to me, the negative correlation is too much at the moment for us to deal with. We can see it’s only going to become worse.”

The eventual goal of having the Living Space be open 24/7 was a topic discussed by Harten and Rinaldo at their meeting. Both agree there is a lack of funding for this right now, and a lack of specialists working in the areas of mental health and addiction. That’s when Harten decided that donating money to the Living Space through his post was a step in the right direction.

“I believe it’s a step in the right direction,” he said, “to give these people in need a place to be, a place to go, a place to feel that it’s their home rather than coming downtown and being on the streets. That’s not a place for anyone to be; that’s not a place I would suggest is reasonable living conditions for anyone, no one. Never.

“But I do understand, in order for that to make a difference, we need a lot of people to be on board with seeing that same vision. Because it’s great to say ‘well, every little bit helps.’ Yes, but a little bit does not help this situation. Not whatsoever.”

When updating people on his original post, Harten felt defeated and aggravated that this problem would not be changing any time soon. He said people started offering to donate $100 a month to the Living Space, if it was going towards the business running 24/7.

“Within a couple of minutes, online, on our Facebook page, there was a grand total of $4,800 yearly, that I could see that people would be willing to give at this moment.”

Rinaldo, from the Downtown BIA, said she’s hoping to hear from more businesses and citizens about ways the BIA can help. The BIA will continue to meet regularly with the Timmins Police Service and encourages residents to give their time or money to the Living Space, local food banks and other non-profits that help the city’s homeless.

Harten says he’s finding it hard to watch the downtown area change so drastically over time.

“It’s difficult to watch,” he said, “it’s difficult to see things change so quickly over time. And, to be honest, with the significant change we see now, if that was to steadily increase in a negative way, the way it has, I don’t know what this will look like in a year.”

“It’s very, very, very difficult to assume what can rightfully be done, what should be done, and how to even go about doing it,” he said. “It’s an issue that, at the moment, right now, I’m so confused on even where I can see this in the next week, the next month, the next year. It’s very difficult.”

You can find the latest posts from Pure Addiction Studios on their Facebook Page here.

To learn more about how to support the Living Space, check out their website here. 


–With files from Timmins Today


Filed under: Local News