Homeless camp in Kitchener can stay for the time being

KITCHEN, Ont. – Aid flooded residents of a large homeless camp in Kitchener, Ontario this week after the community of more than 40 people learned it would be allowed to stay – though it’s not clear for how long.

The Waterloo region, which owns the land where the encampment is located, said it will not forcibly evict the collection of tents in the center of the city, but instead plans to turn to the courts to challenge those who live there. live to leave.

The region had issued eviction notices on June 6 warning residents to leave by Thursday, at which time they would be considered off-limits.

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Some residents said they were concerned there would be a repeat of what happened in Toronto last summer, when violence erupted as police rushed to tear down similar camps by force.

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The postponement is “very good news,” said Jenn Draper, who has lived at the location with her partner Will House since December.

“I’m fine, but they’re saying to get legal help, so I’m not sure what that means.”

“I’m glad, but I wouldn’t leave anyway,” House said.

The Waterloo Region said it will take legal action if residents are not gone by Thursday.

Regional Chair Karen Redman told The Canadian Press that the region will not forcibly evict residents from the encampment, but will file a petition with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice if they do not leave its property.

“We wanted them to know we meant it, but our intention has always been to go to court and the court process will allow all parties to show what they think is the best way forward.” ,” she said.

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Redman said that while space is tight in shelters and motels, there is room for those who live in the camp.

Since 2021, 508 people have moved from homelessness to permanent housing, 190 households at risk of eviction stayed in their homes with rent delinquency financing and 2,626 households avoided shelter through the regions’ housing prevention and diversion program, she said.

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There are currently about 1,000 people living on the streets in the region, Redman said, adding that they have offered camp residents a place somewhere inside.

However, proponents argue there isn’t as much space as the region says, pointing to a nearby space in a church that has recently closed.

“It’s just moving the recliners,” said Michelle Mortansen of the outreach group GoingMobileKW.

And some in the camp, including Draper and House, say they were never approached by the region for shelter.

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“I’d get a motel room if they offered it,” House said. “It would be nice to have my own bathroom.”

The couple were the first to arrive at the site in December. They became homeless in May 2021 after arguing with a friend from whom they rented a room.

Since then they have been in and out of shelters, living on the streets for a few months and in the bush for a few weeks, they said.

They ended up at a soup kitchen in early December. But that didn’t last long either, and then they moved to the country across the street, they said.

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House, who was unable to work for years after breaking his back, helped build a makeshift house.

The top is covered with a heavy masonry tarpaulin insulated by blankets against a retaining wall made of large stones. Inside is a bed and couch and a “walk-in closet” that looks more like a crawl space.

In March, a few others showed up and set up tents, the couple said. Soon after, it rose from a few tents to 20, Draper said.

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In recent months, they have managed to build a community where they take care of each other, she said.

There are several dining tables, lounge chairs, barbecues and a donation table for field workers who come day and night with food, medicines and clothing.

“Many of us don’t have family or their families have turned their backs on us, but we found one here,” Draper said.

“So I think we created that feeling when you walk out the door to go somewhere, you know someone cares if you come back.”

Britney O’Donnell has been living in the camp for the past month. She has experienced violence in shelters and her belongings were regularly stolen. “It’s much better here, nobody steals my stuff,” she said.

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O’Donnell, who previously worked as a nurse, has three children. One day, when her youngest daughter was two years old, her partner gave her a Percocet, an opioid pain reliever, she said.

“I felt like a super mom,” she said. “I could play with my daughter for hours and the house was clean, if spotless.”

She started taking OxyContin, another opioid pain reliever, and eventually fentanyl, she said.

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“I was so stupid and naive and I feel so stupid,” the 37-year-old said, crying. “I miss my children. I want to get clean, but it’s so hard to find a cure.”

O’Donnell said she is terrified of shelters and has no idea where she will go if the region forces her to leave.

Redman, the regional chairman, said the region allowed the camp initially, as long as it didn’t get too big.

It crossed that threshold in early June and grew to nearly 60 people, Redman said. There were also concerns about residents’ safety, criminal activity and health, she said.

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the homeless situation is dire and they desperately need the county to help.

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“Most importantly, we need a plan that provides reasonable and meaningful alternatives for residents,” he said. “It has reached a crisis point.”

The issue has prompted the mayors of Ontario Big City — 29 mayors with populations of 100,000 or more — to request an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Doug Ford to address “the chronic homelessness, mental health, safety and addiction crisis our communities are facing.” overwhelmed, to tackle.”

The Prime Minister’s office has not responded to several requests for comment.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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