Lincoln CAO talks homelessness, coordinating services following AMO

Lincoln’s chief administrative officer Michael Kirkopoulos is reflecting on his time at this year’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference.

The annual conference, which took place in London, Ont. from Aug. 21 to 23, featured more than 2,500 municipal leaders coming together with members of the provincial government to discuss the critical issues municipalities are facing.

Lincoln participated in a number of delegations during the week, including advocating for the Niagara Escarpment Crossing, Niagara Irrigation Project, and exploring shared services.

But sometimes, it’s the discussions that happen outside the delegations that can be the most impactful.

Kirkopoulos said while in London, he was approached by a 74-year-old woman who was experiencing homelessness.

She asked him if he was in town for the conference, and she proceeded to ask him how he was going to help other people experiencing homelessness.

“I said, ‘I'm not avoiding the question, (but) what's your advice for me to take back or to share? How would you solve the problem?’” he recalled, adding that too often decisions are made without consulting those with lived experience.

Kirkopoulos said she told him how there were no safe places to go 24-7, nowhere to get basic needs met, and no help for people like her to navigate the systems that are in place.

While Lincoln doesn’t have the same high unhoused populations St. Catharines and Niagara Falls have, Kirkopoulos feels it falls on the region as a whole to help solve the problem.

“I think it needs to be a network of hubs or a network of things that provide certain functions,” he said.

As it is, Kirkopoulos said the systems that are in place can be cumbersome and hard to navigate.

"Even when we're trying to help people navigate other systems, it's not easy,” he said. “I don't necessarily have the answers right now in terms of how we deal with some of these issues residents and those in need are facing, (but it needs to be a) co-ordinated effort, definitely. If we bring the right people together at all levels and all backgrounds, we can figure it out. That I'm confident about."

Kirkopoulos called back to his hopes for a community hub in the body of the now defunct Beamsville District Secondary School.

By being able to house not-for-profits, as well as municipal and regional services, all under one roof, he hopes to make it easier for those who need help to access it.

While AMO serves as a great opportunity to advocate for Lincoln on priority issues, Kirkopoulos said it’s these individual conversations that really leave a mark.

“At the end of the day, the primary thing is we need to get people feeling safe, 24-7, with some of those basic necessities,” he said.

Abby Green, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News