The relationship between Thorold homeowners and Brock students living in student housing in the city seems to have worsened in recent months. A party held in the early weeks of September allegedly brought hundreds of students to a quiet Thorold street. The party was filmed by residents and posted over social media, drawing a heated response from individuals in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
In response, a Facebook page titled “Thorold – A City Being Destroyed by Students” has been created, drawing close to seven-hundred likes and a large debate in the comments section about the issues between students and the general Thorold community. The administrators behind the page have been clear that the focus of their page is “… not to push hatred or discrimination” against any particular group, but rather to bring awareness to the concerns of homeowners.
The page has also pushed for concerned citizens to get involved in local politics to make sure their voices are heard. In a recent post, the page’s administrators encouraged people to attend a Thorold City Council meeting scheduled for November 7.
In the post, the admins claimed, “We need as many residents there as possible for this meeting and the meeting after on Nov. 21. The meeting on Nov. 7 we will see Brock University Student Union make a statement to council regarding the bus on Winterberry blvd. This statement is to try and reverse the original vote on removing it from the street. An inside source has informed me that the Brock University Student’s Union has been trying to advocate on campus to get feedback to keep the bus and potentially have it be student funded.”
Although the page claimed there would be a “packed house” of residents, only three attendees other than Council members, media and special guests were present at the meeting. No representative of the page or of Thorold residents in general made any public comment in regards to the aforementioned issues.
However, the issues presented on social media posts are not a recent development. Thorold City Councillor Michael Charron, who is serving his fourth term in office, has said that he has handled the concerns of Thorold residents on rental housing since ‘at least’ his second term.
“There were concerns about contact with the rental owners for resolving issues and imposing bylaws, and always concern about inappropriate conditions for some, not all, of the students”, said Councillor Charron.
Many of the concerns have intensified this year due to recent controversial incidents. A party, which allegedly gathered around five-hundred students to a single house on Winterberry Blvd. in Thorold earlier this fall, spilled out onto the street and nearby properties and caused angry reactions from homeowners on Winterberry and nearby streets. The led to a stern response from several Thorold politicians and promises from the Niagara Regional Police to begin to patrol student houses more effectively. Shortly after the incident, Thorold City Council moved to ban St. Catharines’ transit buses from Winterberry Blvd. adjacent to Confederation Heights. Although Thorold politicians claimed the act was for public safety and was in no way related to ‘other problems’ in the area, the move caused a backlash.
A similar controversy was ignited when a Brock student was stabbed in late October on an intersection with Winterberry Blvd., and a young woman was charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.
In response to these incidents, Brock University administration has been careful to denounce and discourage all behaviour which may be seen as inappropriate in their public announcements. In a media release put out in anticipation of Halloween weekend by Brock Media and Communications Department on Oct. 25, the University “… remind[s] its students to be smart and responsible over the coming days as they celebrate Halloween. To help ensure safe behavior during a busy week of festivities, the University is taking the proactive measure of hiring 14 extra Niagara Regional Police officers between Oct. 26-31 to patrol on-campus residences as well as off-campus student neighborhoods. Brock’s Campus Security Services will also have 10 extra special constables working over the weekend and on Halloween, in addition to its regular staffing.”
In addition to the press release, Brock University Vice-Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Student Success Anna Lathrop sent an email statement out to the student body at Brock to comment on recent negative media attention on students and their alleged behaviour. Lathrop commented in particular on the inflammatory effect social media can have on these issues.
“As you are likely aware, in recent weeks a small number of Brock students have been featured in the news media as a consequence of rowdy off-campus parties and other incidents in community neighbourhoods”, Lathrop said in her statement. “Residents and local political figures have publicly voiced concern about this inappropriate behaviour. These incidents are usually, but not exclusively, related to festivities affiliated with social celebrations such as Homecoming, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and other events. Social media can rapidly accelerate the size of these parties, often resulting in dangerous risks to personal safety, damaged property and strained relationships between the University and our neighbouring communities.”
The recent incidents have also caused divided public responses from residents of Thorold and St. Catharines who live in proximity to student housing. Sam Middleton, a Thorold resident and Brock graduate who lives near student housing in the city, has brought her concerns to local media and municipal politicians before. Middleton sees the issues not as isolated incidents but as part of a larger, systemic issue in the Brock community.
“My general perception on the neighbourhood is that in the last two years I have witnessed young families being pushed out of a new neighbourhood that was originally developed as single family homes,” Middleton said in a statement to The Brock Press. “I find the disgusting behaviour that students have been showing in and around their rental properties disrespectful and I believe these students do not care about how their actions are being perceived to the non-student population in the neighbourhood. I shouldn’t have to leave my porch light on every night during October so people don’t steal my Halloween decorations, or smash my pumpkins in my own driveway. I can’t leave my door unlocked even for a couple minutes because I’m worried that students might try to break into my house.”
While Middleton was sympathetic to the Thorold City Council and believes they are “doing as much as they can”, she was critical of the role the rental property owners and Brock University are playing.
“The majority of the houses on Winterberry are owned by a conglomerate company that manages the properties but each house is owned by a single numbered company. This causes more issues with taxing the properties and such”, explained Middleton. “The houses should be taxed as businesses not residential. As for Brock I believe Brock’s off-campus Department needs to be more proactive. They should have a representative going into classes and talking to students directly. Not this passive hand out flyers tactic that they have been doing since the beginning of the school year.”
“Honestly, the biggest thing about the whole thing is the ignorance of the student population”, Middleton explained. “They only see what they want to see and what benefits them. They don’t look at the bigger picture. I just want them to understand our side of the situation not just theirs.”
Middleton’s opinions as a local homeowner were not representative of all. Vickie, who lives on Briarsdale Drive in St. Catharines, has a total of seven student houses on her street. She claims to have had a net positive experience with her student neighbours, and says the students obey municipal bylaws, care about their community, and keep their houses neat.
“I would say my general impression of the Brock students who live around me is that they are respectful. I really only have positive things to say. They donate useful items and furniture that I can then pass on to people in need through my work”, explained Vickie. “They also regularly participate in Halloween and other holidays. My street has a lot of elderly residents, and the fact that the Brock students decorate their houses and hand out candy has a big positive impact for my kids.”
“Yeah, there is the occasional drunk person at 3:00 a.m. making a lot of noise”, Vickie stated. “But I did the same thing as a kid. To the other residents who are worried about this, I would say, try and relate to these kids. This is an age where people are still learning about responsibility and navigating the pressures of life. The students bring a lot of revenue to our city and support our community and economy. Some people need to lighten up.”