Frustrated. Angry. Exasperated.
Those were the emotions filling a south end school gymnasium Thursday night at a town hall meeting on what happened in that area during the University of Guelph’s Homecoming celebration this year and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.
Roughly 100 south end residents came to St. Michael Catholic School to hear from city, university and neighbourhood representatives at a town hall that was organized by Ward 5 councillors Cathy Downer and Leanne Piper.
They also came to vent, as was the case early in the two-hour session when things dissolved into shouting from the audience.
“We know all this, we lived it!” shouted one man, interrupting a presentation by Kathryn Hofer, the U of G’s Manager of Off-Campus Living, as she went over what happened and perhaps why it happened.
“We’re not interested in what happened, we want to know what’s going to be done about it in the future,” yelled another person.
“Get rid of it. We don’t want it in our neighbourhood,” said another.
Parties, garbage, public urination, noise, people damaging property, close calls with people wandering onto busy roads were all part of what many south end residents had to deal with on Sept. 23.
This year’s Homecoming was described as a “perfect storm” for problems due to the unusually hot weather that day, a “pop-up party” that attracted 3,500 people to Chancellor’s way and social media promoting that party.
“If it had been 10 degrees and rainy we wouldn’t have had the Homecoming experience we had,” Hofer said.
“We know we have to prepare for homecoming in a different way,” Hofer said. “I can’t stop a student from having a party, but the university has a role.”
The crowd wanted the U of G to take more ownership for the problem.
Move events on-campus, help pay for damage and policing of the event, bigger fines, involve parents, possible suspension/expulsion from school for those holding problem parties and cancelling Homecoming all together were some suggestions from the audience.
Others urged the city to be stricter about student houses and said that the absentee owners of those houses need to be held more responsible.
Hofer and other speakers said that there are meetings and research being done to come up with a plan for next fall.
“We’re not going to defend the behavior of our students,” Hofer said.
Linda Davis of the McElderry neighbourhood group said “people were frightened. People were afraid.”
“The University of Guelph and police need to be a little bit more proactive in handing out penalties,” Davis said.
“Enough is enough. They’re adults. They’re at university.”
Bruce Ryan of the Old University neighbourhood group said that 15 years ago his neighbourhood was holding meetings just like the one held Thursday.
“You can expect more trouble,” he told the audience. “It’s a complex problem and there are solutions, but they’re not going to be quick,” Ryan said.
“You have to give everybody time to deal with this. If you don’t give people time to figure it out, you’re just going to go round and round in circles,” Ryan said.
Coun. Downer said that police spent $22,000 in overtime on Homecoming Saturday and that 40 young people who lived close to the university ended up in the Guelph General Hospital emergency ward that day.
The problem isn’t just Homecoming, some residents said.
“Homecoming for me is every Saturday night,” said a man whose home is flanked by student houses on both sides.
One area resident has taken to dishing out her own form of vigilante justice.
She said if there is a late party that keeps her awake, she goes by the house the next day and continually rings their doorbell at 6 a.m.
“If you wake me up at 2 a.m., I’m waking you up at 5:30 or six in the morning,” the woman said.
“Talking to them is useless.”
More dialogue, more information and an action plan will be forthcoming, the audience heard.