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LETTER: We need to pull together to address downtown woes

Reader shares how downtown has changed since he moved to Guelph in 2005
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GuelphToday received the following letter to the editor from reader Julio Rodriguez about the challenges facing our downtown.

I made Guelph my home in 2005. I fell in love with Guelph for its look, economy, inclusive environment and small-town feel. 

My partner’s business was located at that time on Quebec Street. A vibrant, hustling, sought-after location in beautiful downtown. 

My kids would visit us every summer and for me living my true self in this amazing inclusive city was pure bliss. Very different from the United States.  

I would have my kids, who were 12 and 8, take the bus from the front of our home in south end to the last stop on Quebec Street. 

They would walk down to our business and we would have dinner two to three nights a week downtown. I felt as if I lived in a Norman Rockwell image of what a beautiful small town city was. 

Fast forward to 2023. Our business and home has now relocated to what is now included in the “new” downtown BIA area. 

To be honest, I never felt like part of a community with such friendly neighbours until we moved downtown. When you live downtown, everyone knows who lives downtown. 

We all walk our dogs around the same time, we support all of our local small businesses and we even use all the services that are supplied and offered in our downtown. We have amazing restaurants, bars, and social services and gatherings with which really make this city and downtown so special. I have walked home, many many many nights without any fear of altercation or harm. It’s been that way since then until now.   

About 12 years ago we noticed several mentally ill, unhoused needing support and food. They frequented the square because of all the foot traffic. We started to also remember them by name. They were polite and grateful and not rude. There were probably around six to eight well-known downtown unhoused not belligerently drunk or addicted to drugs. 

Today there are more with substance abuse and mentally ill with drug addiction that have made downtown their home that I can’t even count. They are not unhoused because we have no social services.  

As a matter of fact it is well known provincially among the addicted that we have the best social services and drugs. Those that are addicted or mentally ill due to drugs don’t trust the system for several reasons. 

They have been through things most have never and will never go through to understand. I have spoken to several, and the stories are absolutely heart wrenching. Remember there is a lot of money being made my many in our community with bad intentions that this issue keeps growing and so do their wallets. 

That’s why we have an issue. Someone’s making the money and a whole lot of it.  

If we can raise millions for animal shelters, then can’t our amazing city of Guelph raise money for fellow human beings?

Many of us business owners downtown already help the unhoused and afflicted. We have taken it upon ourselves to help our downtown community. We listen to the feedback of our customers that they don’t want to come downtown anymore.  They don’t feel safe and they don’t want the abuse and they don’t want their children seeing the drugs and alcohol being used. So what are we left to do?  

We started our businesses downtown because we love and support downtown. Why aren’t we being helped and supported by our city officials like we support them? 

We trust in them to continue our community to grow and prosper. It’s hard making the right decisions. Sometimes decisions are made in favour of one, and not another. And that’s the politics of it all – there is no right answer that helps everyone. I stay up at night and think, what else can we do to help solve this situation? 

Any solution that is brought up will only favour one side. I think the first step for any solution is brainstorming and putting together a group of people from all organizations including our business owners, the social services, formally unhoused and recovered addicts and elected officials for a two- to three-day summit to talk about this epidemic before our demise as human beings. 

Come on, Guelph. Remember when we were one of the top growing cities in Canada to live in?  Frankly, aren’t we better than this? 

Julio Rodriguez