As post-secondary students begin to make their way into the region, Waterloo is collaborating with several community groups to help them settle in. The #neighbourloo initiative provides community partners with the opportunity to engage with students throughout September on topics like rental housing, parking rules, noise bylaws and personal safety. Waterloo’s Director of Municipal Enforcement Services, Shayne Turner, says the goal is to be a good neighbour.
“It’s really important that students feel welcome with the City of Waterloo, but it’s also important for them to understand there’s obligations with coming to our city and living in neighbourhoods – and of course there’s heightened obligations because of the COVID-19 virus…”
Turner says some of the frequent bylaw issues reported include nuisance noise, lot maintenance, parking violations and issues with garbage collection. He says the hope is that, through increased messaging and information sessions, students can gain a firm understanding of the obligations of a citizen and resident of our region.
The #neighbourloo initiative has already held its first virtual event with Wilfrid Laurier University, which allowed Waterloo Fire Rescue the opportunity to speak to students about fire-safety on campus while cooking in residence units. Presentations included a demonstration video as well as a virtual question and answer period for students.
The group has also planned a virtual “Campusfest” with Wilfrid Laurier University – an event that would typically see community supports setting up booths on campus to disseminate information around the ‘good things to know’ about living in Waterloo when it comes to rules and regulations. Representatives from emergency supports as well as arts and culture services will share information to students about bylaws, parking options, arts and culture programming and neighbourhood outreach.
“The key part of this collaboration is everybody understands everybody else’s objectives (…) we know that the Universities create a significant economic impact to our region – many of the students come and stay for years. There are obligations as well, and we just want to make sure everybody is safe, and neighbourhoods are respectful”
When it comes to keeping matters respectful, Turner says the COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for bylaw enforcement officers in our region. While officers have been involved in enforcing provincial social gathering orders, he says September will be the first time that municipalities will be faced with the challenge of returning students.
“Our challenge right now is we’re not sure what to expect in terms of the numbers and how they’re going to react. Unfortunately, we did have a number of incidents over the weekend which we believe create public health concerns around the spread of the virus.”
One of those incidents, a house party on Hickory Street West, had to be broken up by regional police and bylaw officers. Police say more than one-hundred students had to be dispersed, while bylaw officers charged three people under the Emergency management and Civil Protection Act.
“Our focus is making sure the students have a safe and enjoyable time here in Waterloo (…) we don’t want to be charging people and hassling students when they’re here for their education – but there are also some accountabilities to be had”.
Turner says part of the #neighbourloo initiative is directed towards providing newly landed students with the information they need to keep themselves and the people in our community safe from the spread of COVID-19. He says part of the collaboration has the city working closely with regional police to identify where student parties may be set to be held, and gently reminding organizers of the risks and potential consequences of their event.
In addition to virtual events, the City of Waterloo will be increasing its messaging on social media accounts to direct students to the city’s website, which will be regularly updated with information on parking, noise, property standards, rental housing support and more.
The #neighbourloo initiative is a collaborative effort – involving the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College, University of Waterloo’s Undergraduate Student Association, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services, Waterloo Regional Police Services and Region of Waterloo Public Health.