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In 1989, Joe Roberts was addicted to heroin, living under a bridge in Vancouver. READ MORE: “In less than 12 years I went from a kid pushing a shopping cart on Vancouver’s downtown east side, to being on the cover of Canadian Business and MacLean’s magazine as a celebrated entrepreneur,” he said. Roberts is former CEO of Mindware Design Communications and now works as a motivational speaker, telling his story to businesses and organizations across North America. On Wednesday, he was the keynote speaker at The Push For Change at Blue Mountain Resort, a two-day symposium on mental health organized by the Ontario Provincial Police. Roberts was born in Midland and lived in Barrie before moving to Vancouver at age 16. It was in Vancouver, where developed addiction and spent time in jail and ended up homeless. He said he grew up in your average middle class family. “There is no indications in the first eight years of our lives that I would end up on the street,” he said. However, his father died when he was eight years old and his mother re-married shortly thereafter. He said this led to emotional abuse and physical abuse in the home, which was the trigger for his addiction. He said he tried drugs when he was nine-years-old. It was in 1989, after selling his boots for a fix, that he decided to make some changes in his life. “In 1989, I was not the jokester, I didn’t have a life that was filled with laughter and fun,” he said. “I was the quintessential addict living in the downtown east side, collecting cans and bottles.” He received support from the Salvation Army in Vancouver, his mother and addiction counselors. Roberts received two diplomas and went on to a successful business career, making his first million dollars when he was 35. “Getting from there to here, took a lot of help,” he said. “I’m here because of more than 10,000 people who invested in me. Who invested not in my probability, but my possibility.” Roberts said homelessness is a problem that needs support and collaboration. He said more money needs to be invested in prevention and support. “How we invest, right now in North America and most of the developed world, we invest in emergency response,” he said. “If you had a pipe broken in your house, would you spend all day, all night continuing to mop up the water without stopping the leak? The system for me for exiting homelessness, worked.” Also speaking was former NHLer and best-selling author Sheldon Kennedy. Kennedy, who played eight seasons in the NHL, has been advocating for abused children after announcing he had been sexually assaulted by his former hockey coach. Kennedy is a director of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre Calgary. The centre includes representatives from the Alberta Health Services, prosecutors’ office, justice ministry, police and RCMP under one roof. Kennedy believes collaboration is important in dealing with mental health issues. “My message is connecting the dots for the impact of early childhood trauma,” he said. “Our systems are set up to deal with the outer layer of the onion all the time.” Kennedy said more than 90 per cent of mental health issues come from trauma. He said it’s imperative the police have the knowledge of how to deal with these issues. “We can’t operate in our silos and not communicate with each other,” he said. “If we see somebody who is down and out on the street, how do we shift the question from what’s wrong with you to what happened to you?” Kennedy said there needs to be more stories about recovery and people overcoming these challenges. “We don’t hear enough good stories about recovery and hope,” he said. “One of our messages is, there is a way out, because I was one of them.” OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes said the symposium is part of the mental health strategy the OPP introduced a year ago. “How do we train our officers to be in a better position to deal with the community?” he said.  “We have to make sure our members understand the challenges of mental health.” In 2010, Aaron Firman, who was suffering from mental health issues, was killed after an officer used a taser. Hawkes said it’s incidents like this that led to the development of the strategy. “It certainly is,” he said.  “The driver of it is, we as police officers have to be in a better position to deal with those individuals in crisis. The whole understanding of what the individual is going through and how you deal with it.” He said the organization is making changes to it’s policies and investment in its officers. He said they are looking at best practices of how to people in crisis. Hawkes said one model includes having a mental health worker and police officer going to the same call. “We’ve enhanced our training in the last two years, to build in the de-escalation piece in a higher level than we ever had before,” he said.  “We don’t want to be in a position when we take individuals and arrest them and put them in jail when really they are sick and they need to go see a doctor. We have to invest to in our people training and other technology.” Hawkes has been in policing for 32 years, and said the way they deal with mental health crisis has to change. “All you saw was the threat, you didn’t understand why,” he said. “There was individual who was doing something unusual and was a potential threat to someone in the community or a police officer and we just dealt with it, with sheer physical force. Now, it’s all about understanding what those challenges are and how do we deal with them appropriately?”

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Hospice Orillia is looking to house residential palliative-care services at a local retirement home. "In Orillia, there are no palliative-care or hospice beds," said Sandra Dunham, executive director of Hospice Orillia and Hospice Simcoe. "In our Local Health Integration Network, Orillia is the only place in this geographic area without palliative beds." As a result, one of the only options is to use Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital’s (OSMH) services, which would mean those receiving end-of-life care might not have a private room or staff specializing in palliative care. It is also more expensive, Dunham noted. Jim Fitzgerald, fund development manager at Hospice Orillia, and Dunham presented their business plan to council at Monday night’s meeting. Included in their proposal was the bid to acquire a wing at Champlain Manor to house a five-bedroom residential hospice with full-time services and staff. "They have an ideal set-up where we can have a wing to our own with a private entrance," said Dunham. Having considered other co-location options, including OSMH, Champlain Manor was the most promising, she said. Hospice Orillia is still in the negotiating phase with the retirement home, but the response has been good so far. "They already provide a good deal of palliative care to their residents, and we’ve worked closely to provide support to people dying there," Dunham said. A call to Champlain Manor requesting comment was not returned by press time Tuesday. If the plan comes to fruition, Hospice Orillia will have to raise $2.5 million to cover the operating costs for the first five years, Dunham said. "The province of Ontario typically funds hospices and residential hospices at $90,000 a year per bed," she said, adding the cost to smaller hospices is about twice that amount. "There will be some capital costs, (but) they’ll be minimum. We’ll need to buy five hospital beds and furnishings for the rooms and we’ll need to install a kitchen, but there’s no structural changes that need to be made." Dunham said a decision will have to be made regarding the future of the residential hospice depending on the response from the community. Coun. Pat Hehn, a former hospice steering committee member, said she was delighted to see the organization moving forward. Even though council has not yet been asked for financial support, Hehn was sure gathering donations for the cause wouldn’t be a problem. "I do know that donations for hospice come in extremely well, especially once it’s opened," she said. "When families use hospice, they very often put in the obituaries that they’d like donations to go to the hospice." On average, Dunham explained, people spend about two years dying. The caregiving role isn’t a one-week intensive exercise; it’s a long, drawn-out affair. "If you have no idea when it’s going to end, and you have no support, it’s pretty overwhelming," said Dunham. "People in long-term-care facilities do a really, really great job, (but) that full gamut of support is really needed." mshahid@postmedia.com twitter.com/chromartblog 

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Shanty Bay resident Raymond Greenhalgh is celebrating after discovering he won the $50,000 top prize playing INSTANT QUEST FOR GOLD CROSSWORD (Game #3213).  ??“When I saw that I had won, I just about dropped to my knees,” shared Raymond, while at the OLG Prize Centre in Toronto to pick up his winnings. “I called my mom to tell her the good news but she didn’t believe me until I stopped by her house to show her my winning ticket,” ??said Greenhalg, a landscaper and father of one, plans to build up his nest egg and treat himself to a four-wheeler. ?  ? The winning ticket was purchased at East End Variety & Snack Bar on Blake Street in Barrie.

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Two Simcoe County paramedics displayed their life-saving chops at the National Paramedic Competition this past weekend. Advanced care paramedics (ACP) Julia Young-Williams and Steve Prophet competed against more than 30 teams from Ontario, Quebec and Florida during the event in Oshawa. After rigorous training working together in person — as well as over the phone and through emails and texts — the pair brought home a first-place finish in the ACP division, taking a written exam and working through various simulated emergencies. To secure the win, Young-Williams and Prophet completed a number of tasks, including a heart attack that required multiple cardioversions — a medical procedure by which an abnormally fast heart rate or cardiac arrhythmia is converted to a normal rhythm using electricity or drugs — troubleshooting an electrocution that was complicated by multi-system trauma and an abnormal heart rate, and responding to a skiing accident which included major challenges involving airway management and environmental factors. There were other scenarios as well and the final component featured a collection of tasks performed in two-minute intervals that included medical tasks such as CPR and calculation as well as measuring and setting of intravenous drip rates. "During the competition, organizers created a very realistic environment to allow us to practise our skills in a safe and controlled way," Prophet said. "You have to be creative, utilize the resources at hand and be able to reassess the situation quickly and change gears as required." The county’s paramedic services director and chief, Andrew Robert — who oversees more than 300 paramedics — said he was "extremely proud" of Young-Williams and Prophet. “All our paramedics are highly trained. However, champions such as Steve and Julia, who work hard and challenge themselves make us all strive to be better,” he said. County Warden Gerry Marshall also congratulated the two advanced care paramedics. "This is a true demonstration of the skill, commitment and world-class training exemplified by our entire service," he said. While it’s nice to see their names on the first-place trophy, winning the competition wasn’t as important as the learning process, they said. "After the competition there was a debrief with the other participants which was a very valuable process," Prophet said. "We saw how they approached things and we all learned from each other." "From our perspective, the benefits are the time and preparation leading up to the competition," Young-Williams added. "Over the last few months, we were studying, practising our skills and making sure our knowledge was sharp. We were running through different patient scenarios and trying to prepare ourselves for any challenges that might arise. "We both came home as better paramedics." imcinroy@postmedia.com

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MIDLAND – A toy collection may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a man of the cloth, but Rev. Alton Ruff proves appearances can be deceiving. The pastor of Midland’s Knox Presbyterian Church has an extensive collection of toys and figurines, many of which are on display in his office at the church on Hugel Avenue. Ruff acknowledged it may be a “bit unusual” to see a minister with such an extensive toy collection. “But the first thing you need to know about us is that we’re human just like everybody else,” he said. “Although people put us up on a pedestal, we don’t really belong there.” Ruff is passionate about his collection. He said he’s been accumulating pieces since 1984, when the original television version of “The Transformers” caught his imagination. The 1980s version of Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, remains at the core of his collection. “Once I saw the vehicle that could be transformed into a robot, I was absolutely taken in,” said the Stouffville native. “He always stood for truth, even if it cost him.” Ruff eventually realized the figure of Optimus Prime had a bit of a tie-in with his faith. In the original 1985 animated film, the character sacrifices himself to save others, and then come back to life. “Without sounding sacrilegious, he is a bit of a Jesus figure,” he said. Ruff has 300-400 “Transformers” figurines, 50 “Star Wars” pieces and a few miscellaneous items such as the Ninja Turtles. He said he keeps the most valuable pieces at home, with the “spillover collection” finding a home inside the church. After 30 years of collecting, he noted he has “no idea” of the total value of his collection: “But it’s probably worth several thousand.” Ruff said he has done “some reflecting” on why he likes the toys and figurines so much, especially since he will be turning 40 in December. “People will come in to plan a funeral or get some marriage counselling,” he said. “And they always have a positive reaction that helps … bring a little light to what may be a pretty dark day.” And Ruff said the collection helps him when he is dealing with difficult times in his own life. “I can go into a hospital to see a parishioner who is dying, or have someone pour out the trauma in their lives,” he said. “And then I can just go home and grab one of these guys and feel like I’m a kid again.”

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MIDLAND – A discussion over sidewalk installation in the Tiffin by the Lake development turned into a broader discussion of the town’s sidewalk policy Monday night. Midland general committee examined the proposal for sidewalks on Taylor Drive and Davenport Street in the new subdivision, which has been opposed by some residents in the area. Coun. Jack Contin said, “Every time council discusses sidewalks, we have a council chamber full of people protesting.” READ MORE: Mayor Gord McKay, who lives on Aberdeen Boulevard in the Tiffin development, said the lack of sidewalks on his street has led to “very dangerous” situations. Deputy Mayor Mike Ross agreed, saying if council could “go back and change its decision on Aberdeen, it would.” Their fellow councillors generally agreed with the need for sidewalks in new developments, with Coun. Stewart Strathearn stating there should be no exceptions to the policy requiring their installation. Coun. Glen Canning, however, said sidewalks in new developments are moving so far away from the street that people’s privacy is being invaded. Councillors agreed to move forward with the sidewalk construction on Taylor. The Davenport sidewalk will be deferred until development begins. The decision is expected to be finalized at the next meeting of council.

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A one-stop permit system for shoreline development would aid Lake Simcoe and help property owners navigate around what is now a convoluted process, a town report says. The town has been working on a shoreline development permit system for more than a year in a bid to ensure lakeside property owners follow rules under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. “Ultimately this project is about responsible development along one of the town’s most significant natural resources,” policy planner Michelle Banfield said in a report to council. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan aims to protect existing natural shoreline and ensure natural vegetation cover around the lake. “The private ownership desires must be balanced with the need to protect and enhance Lake Simcoe, its shoreline and its ecological health,” Banfield said. The Town of Innisfil, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority are partners on the project, which could see a local bylaw in place in 2017. That bylaw will be used as a template to be used by other municipalities around Lake Simcoe. The need for a new permit system was first raised during a forum held in Innisfil in 2013, where municipal, provincial and conservation authorities complained some landowners were altering shoreline properties inappropriately. Last June, Innisfil council froze development on 39 Big Bay Point area properties until the new permit system is developed. That interim control bylaw is now under appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board. Several landowners told council last summer, they disagreed with what they called the town’s heavy-handed approach. Matt Goodchild told council last year the temporary development freeze infringes on her property rights. “I pay taxes on that property, but I can’t build on the lot,” he said. The new shoreline permit system will expand the definition of development, Banfield’s report says. It would include site alteration, grading changes and the removal of vegetation, including trees. “A DPS can therefore combine zoning, minor variance, site plan approval, site alteration and vegetation removal into one application,” the report says.

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City officials have roughly a month to decide whether to accept or reject the Simcoe County District School Board’s new site plan for the proposed south-Barrie high school. Members of the board’s business and facilities standing committee discussed the Barrie secondary school urban design brief during their meeting Wednesday night. Rick Merrill, of The Planning Partnership and author of the report, spoke with trustees and committee members. His brief is part of the board’s new site plan submission for the new school, which is to be located at Mapleview Drive East and Prince William Way. The site plan was to be submitted to the City of Barrie by Thursday or Friday. The board wants the school to be located on the southern portion of 225 Prince William Way for safety and cost reasons; Barrie city council wants it on the northern portion to conform with the Hewitt’s Secondary Plan and urban design guidelines. Last fall council denied the board’s site plan, stalling plans to build the new high school and raising the possibility this matter could result in an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing. The school board had planned to submit a new site plan, one which could include a second building on the property’s northern portion, to help meet the city’s urban design guidelines policy – but not change the school’s location. "The option of a building at the corner was one alternative that was included in a staff report to council. However, they were not asked to make any decision relative to that alternative," said city CAO Carla Ladd. "Since then, there were meetings between the city and the board about how that option could be improved such that it could be recommended to council. "In January, the city was advised the board was proceeding with this option, which was a positive step," she added. After receiving The Planning Partnership report, board staff decided the building at the corner was not an alternative after all, said John Dance, school board superintendent of facility services. "We had that compromise there in front of the (city) council and they ignored it," he said. "Had we thought about putting a building there? We did, until (Planning Partnership) came back and said, ‘Why would you put a building at the corner?’," he added. "What (Merrill’s) report did was validate what we’d been working on all along," Dance said. "That’s what the city asked us to do originally: get an urban design brief that supports it, and that’s what it does." Although Mayor Jeff Lehman had yet to lay eyes on the revised site plan Thursday, he wasn’t impressed that there was no mention of the smaller building. "They had told us they were going to submit a site plan with a revised building at the corner, but then appear to have changed their minds," he said. "By taking that option off the table, the board has returned to where we were last fall. "I’m very disappointed that the board changed their mind and went back to the option from last fall, rather than working on a negotiated compromise. Going to the OMB is a terrible solution and only the students and their families will suffer if a solution can’t be negotiated." Dance said an OMB hearing is not something the board necessarily wants. But he said it is one of the options open to trustees if the site plan is rejected by the city, adding The Planning Partnership are "the experts" and have worked with the city on other projects. "We hope we’re going to have another conversation with the city. They have the site plan and if they decide not to go forward, then we’ll have to have direction from our trustees," Dance said. According to OMB regulations, the city has to give the school board an indication within 30 days of a site plan being submitted before the board can appeal. "Thirty days from today, if we haven’t heard from them or if they say they’re going to deny it, then we could go to an OMB appeal," Dance said, adding there is also another avenue involving the OMB. "Part of the OMB process, if the other side is interested in it, is mediation before you get to a full hearing. So we could have mediation along the way," he added. Dance said the board also has options other than pursing an OMB solution. "We could change the attendance areas, ask the ministry to allow us to put additions on other buildings or change the location and build a brand new high school in a totally different location," he said. "What we said from the beginning was if we have to redesign and relocate the school (on the property), we’re not going to get as good a building," he added. "We’re not going to get as functional a building for kids and we’re going to have to spend a lot of money on retaining walls because of the topography. "And we’re also going to be (in a location) where the trustees believe is unsafe and we’ll have to pay for a brand new design, which is a lot of money." Dance said board officials would prefer a negotiated settlement. "We (the city and the school board) have all sat at the table. We’re in this situation where we’ve had negotiations back and forth with the city for extended times. We haven’t got it," he said, adding deciding to go to the OMB would be a decision for school trustees to make. "Have we got everything in line for what we hope is a successful OMB appeal? With this, we believe we do," he said, referring to the urban design brief and the new site plan. imcinroy@postmedia.com

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BRADFORD – A boat and trailer were stolen from a Crown Crescent driveway Tuesday morning. The owner told South Simcoe police he left home at 8 a.m., but when he returned at 1:30 p.m. the boat and trailer were gone. A neighbour told the owner that a man in a silver Dodge pickup truck hooked up the trailer and drove away at about 9 a.m. He is described as white, age 30 and 5’9” tall, with a medium build and a ball cap. Stolen was a white, 2001 BAHA Outlaw boat with ‘Johnny Boss’ written on its stern, and on the trailer. Its Ontario licence plate is L2115P. Anyone with information about this incident, or video surveillance of the area, is asked to call police at 905-775-3311 or 705-436-2141 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. 

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NORTH SIMCOE – Bettie Pain of the South Simcoe Rebel Rollers gives a lesson in roller derby to Anna Hartman, left, of the Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre and “Battle for the Brave” sponsor Karen Caldwell of Royal Lepage. The second annual fundraiser will take place May 28 at the Tay Community Outdoor Rink in Port McNicoll. Tickets are $5 each (free for children under nine). Fans will enjoy hard-hitting action between the Ghoul Guides and Boneyard Betties. All proceeds will go to the cancer support centre. Visit to purchase tickets. CHECK IT OUT:

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