Managed, outdoor encampment idea supported by many city council candidates in downtown Kitchener wards
Candidates in Wards 9 and 10 asked for thoughts on homelessness in their communities
The idea of a managed, outdoor encampment to help people experiencing homelessness in Kitchener, Ont., is supported by many of the candidates running for city council in two downtown wards.
The region plans to do a homelessness master plan in the new year, but in the short term, staff are working on ways to address homelessness with housing programs, increased emergency shelter spaces and the idea of a temporary, managed outdoor encampment.
- Ward 9 includes Victoria Park where an encampment is located on Roos Island.
- Ward 10 includes the intersection of Victoria Street and Weber Street where an encampment has existed since the early part of this year on a vacant lot owned by the region.
Every candidate running in these two wards responded to questions. The candidate responses are grouped by ward and in alphabetical order by last name.
Incumbent Debbie Chapman said she wants to see the current encampment remain until alternative living arrangements are made for the people there, and she fully supports a managed encampment "as a temporary arrangement."
She says she'd want to see a managed site include fewer than 50 people, and there should be washroom facilities, showers, a dining tent and wraparound services.
Ultimately, though, she says the city and region "need to build more supportive housing units now. While managed encampments serve an immediate purpose, they are not adequate."
Dave Redman expressed some reservations about a managed encampment, saying it is "a temporary fix to a large-scale, long-range problem."
"We must be cautious in enacting programs such as so-called better tent cities or managed encampments and not allow them to become out-of-sight, out-of-mind solutions," he said.
"I would support a managed encampment in my ward, insofar as I support it at all," he added.
"Although we would hopefully not allow NIMBY-ism [not in my backyard] to determine the most appropriate site selection, we must also be aware of how a possible managed site would affect other residents and shared spaces."
Matthew Robson wants to learn more about what a managed encampment would look like before commenting on whether he would support one in his ward or the city.
"I think that solutions that include dignity and more people-centred perspectives along with proper care and consideration of the economics of supply and demand is what is needed to better support homelessness in our region."
He said he knows for the people camping in Victoria Park, they have demands they want to see met before they move, "which I believe we should support before we try to make decisions on what I personally want to see happen with the homeless population's homes."
"It is also important to learn about the population you are serving before trying to solve their problems."
Alex Shevchenko said addictions are a concern for some people experiencing homelessness and he called on the provincial and federal governments to build transitional housing.
"We need more mental health programs to attack the vast issues in the region, the huge drug addiction, and supply in our region," Shevchenko said.
"Cut off the supply of drugs and watch them disappear. [They're] only here because of the huge drug supply available. We need more law enforcement walking the streets and we need better trained officers to determine if mental health or drug abuse is the issue."
Brooklin Wallis said she supports the idea of a managed encampment in her ward because it's close to services people experiencing homelessness might need.
"I absolutely love it as a temporary measure. We need to be careful to ensure it stays temporary, but I think that having places that have a stronger sense of community, like a managed encampment has the potential to be, will be really beneficial for the homeless people of the city," she said.
"That being said, I'm not quite sure where in the ward would be best for something like this. However I do know that Roos Island isn't it."
For Beth Warren, the word "managed" is the important part of the region's plan.
"I have spoken with outreach workers and those who help the homeless, and although some encampments are providing refuge for those living rough, there are still major problems with crime, violence, and selling illegal drugs," Warren said. "I think a managed site would cut down on those dangers."
Warren, who has previously worked at Waterloo-Wellington Non-Profit Homes, said she would support having a managed encampment in her ward because she's seen first hand the struggles people without housing face.
"They need access to medical care, public transportation, and most importantly affordable housing," she said.
Aislinn Clancy said she would like to see a tiny home model in the interim, similar to A Better Tent City, which is a tiny home project located on lands jointly owned by the public school board and the city on Ardelt Avenue.
Clancy volunteers at A Better Tent City and says the community that has been built there "has rules and integrity."
She would like to see money put toward prevention, such as rent assistance and information to help tenants understand their rights as renters. Plus, Clancy said the other issue many in encampments face is addictions and that may mean they're using drugs that are tainted.
"I would support an expansion of accessible and affordable rehabilitation services and harm reduction programs such as safer supply," Clancy said.
Peter Davis said he'd prefer to see the region build emergency shelters.
"No one should have to spend the winter outside," Davis said. "They don't need to be large, but each person should have at least a bed and a door with a lock. They should also have access to a shower, toilets, and a supply of drinking water."
Davis also pointed to the example of A Better Tent City and said while it was cost effective, "at the end of the day, these are just sheds on privately owned land because that is what they were allowed to build without special permission from council."
Davis said city council could "write bylaws that would allow low cost shelters to be built quickly, and furthermore council should be willing to temporarily use the land it controls to construct these emergency shelters."
Dan Fife said ultimately "encampments have to eventually come to an end. They are not a long-term solution."
"The idea of a managed encampment site is the best short-term solution. The real challenge is finding a way to ensure that it does not become the accepted status quo," Fife said, adding it's an issue that must be "tackled across all wards, throughout the city, region and beyond."
He said he would want to see the encampment in Victoria Park ended "as soon as possible."
"I do believe, however, that in balancing the interests of all members of the community, a priority should be given to ending the encampments that have the greatest impact on the most people," he said.
Lana Hiscock said there needs to be "viable alternatives to living outside" for people experiencing homelessness and people "cannot continue indefinitely" to live in encampments.
But she wouldn't want to evict people without giving them an option of somewhere else to live.
"I believe that encampments of any sort are an indictment of the way our society looks after our population as a whole — it is a failure of social infrastructure," Hiscock said, adding she would support the "short-term construction of a properly managed encampment" in her ward.
"I would stipulate that it cannot be a long-term solution, and we must work to end such forms of transitional housing — we can and must do better," Hiscock said.
Stephanie Stretch says she'd want to see a managed encampment include security, washrooms, food, health care and access to other essential supports to support people's emotional and physical wellbeing.
"A managed encampment site can be an effective component of a robust transitional and supportive housing system that recognizes the unique needs of Kitchener's precariously housed community of individuals," Stretch said, saying she, too, supports having a managed encampment in her ward.
What is needed ultimately is for the community to come together, Phong Tran said.
He said he supports ideas like A Better Tent City. He would also support a "well-managed encampment … only if we are also looking into wraparound services and also a public awareness campaign."
"A well managed encampment can have a place anywhere, including inside my Ward 10. It's all in how we work together," he said.
"We need to understand that the challenges do not just disappear, they move from place to place."
The municipal election is Oct. 24.