Advocates ‘very sad’ by lack of help for homeless camp residents in Ontario city

8 Min Read

If not here, where? The question often arises when it comes to homeless encampments and doesn’t seem to have an easy answer as the country deals with the housing crisis.

On Monday, residents of an encampment at Milligan’s Park in Barrie, Ont., were issued a bylaw violation notice for camping in a public park without permission and placing debris on city property.

The approximately 13 people in the encampment were given 24 hours to pack and move.

However, with no other options and having already moved the location before, the people in the camp had to explore their legal options.

That’s when Christine Nayler, co-founder and director of Ryan’s Hope, an organization that advocates for and provides support to people with substance use disorders and homelessness, mentioned the York Region Community Legal Clinic.

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“It’s very, very sad, and it’s just misinformed, and it doesn’t help. Where does the city want them to go?” Nayler asks.

Jeff Schlemmer, executive director of the legal clinic, said several cases involving encampments in recent years have “clarified the rules,” adding that municipalities cannot remove people without providing them with adequate options.

“The case law is consistent; There have been cases in recent years in Kingston and Waterloo where the court has refused to grant the municipality an order allowing them to evict encampment residents, and there was one in Toronto and one in Hamilton where they were allowed to evict because they found that there were sufficient, accessible alternative accommodations.”

Schlemmer sent a cease and desist order to the city, explaining that the plan to remove the park’s residents would conflict with similar court rulings in other communities.

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“Given the grossly inadequate ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) and OW (Ontario Works) shelter allowances paid to Ontario’s disabled citizens and the substantial increase in rental prices, making it virtually impossible for them to find rental housing, it is predicted that homelessness will continue to increase for the foreseeable future,” Schlemmer wrote. “A practical plan is needed that goes beyond simply evicting homeless citizens from camps.”

Sign at the Milligan’s Park homeless camp in Barrie, Ont.

Provided by Christine Nayler

In response to his letter, the City of Barrie said in a statement Tuesday that “given the decisions of the Ontario Court of Justice and the lack of available shelter space at this time, (it) is not proceeding with evictions. However, municipal law enforcement officers advise individuals when their actions or conduct violates municipal statutes.”

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The city says it has received complaints from local residents/property owners about the debris and activities at Milligan’s Park and Pond that violate city bylaws.

Last Friday evening, city crews reported a fire at an encampment in another part of Milligan’s Park and Pond, prompting them to investigate.

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But advocates say what appears to be a pause on deportations won’t solve the underlying problems.

“We want housing for everyone. We would like to see everyone have a space or a home, but that obviously takes a lot of time, so it won’t happen overnight,” says Nayler.

Nayler says the city could help in the meantime by setting up a trash pickup time so they have a place to throw away trash and access sanitation and running water while they face a lack of housing options.

“I think the city needs to stop feeding the fear that people have. It creates an us-and-them environment in our community, and that doesn’t benefit anyone in our community,” Nayler said.

Nayler says everyone is struggling with the high cost of living, adding that we need to come together as a community to support each other instead of being divided.

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People at the Milligan’s Park homeless camp in Barrie, Ont.

Provided by Christine Nayler

One of the camp residents, Jay Carr, 45, says he has struggled with homelessness on and off since leaving the foster care system at age 18. Because he is on disability in Ontario, he says when his last relationship ended, he couldn’t afford a place for him. own, so he started living in the park about a year ago.

He says he and others were warned by city staff before they had to move, and because they didn’t know they had any other choice, they packed up and moved to another location.

He’s frustrated with the response and wants more services to help them instead of just moving them from one location to another.

“The sad thing is that we are judged by a lot of people. The stigmatism they have against the homeless is insane. We can’t afford it like a lot of people can,” Carr said.

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Carr says options for what he can afford are limited and difficult to find, often living with multiple people. In the absence of options, he feels more comfortable in the tent.

He says finding a safe option is made more difficult by his severe asthma, knowing that shared accommodation or apartment buildings can harbor animals that trigger his allergies.

Carr wants more services to help people and more stable and affordable housing options.

The situation regarding encampments and public safety concerns is playing out across the province.

Schlemmer pointed to a situation in Sarnia, Ontario, where councilors recently decided not to remove a homeless encampment after receiving advice from lawyers.

In Peterborough, the city launched its own tiny house community to tackle homelessness, and other communities are exploring similar options.

Despite persistent housing problems, Simcoe County, which oversees homelessness and housing programs for communities including Barrie, is taking steps to try to house people permanently.

The province is expanding its rapid rehousing program, setting up a temporary site with trailers and support staff who can work with residents to find permanent housing. So far, they have one site that will focus on helping homeless youth in Orillia, with plans to run two other communities.

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When the initiative was piloted in Barrie last year, it resulted in 90 per cent of participants being permanently housed.

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