Kitchener-Waterloo

Victoria Park encampment strategically placed so people 'can't turn a blind eye,' say organizers

A homeless encampment has been set up on Victoria Park's Roos Island in Kitchener as of Canada Day weekend, and its organizers with Fightback K-W — some of whom are activists with lived experience — said they chose the site to bring attention to the city's growing problem.

Encampment also acts as a protest, says Julian Ichim

The new encampment on Roos Island, in downtown Kitchener, was set up during Canada Day weekend. (James Chaarani/CBC)

An encampment for the homeless has been set up on Victoria Park's Roos Island in Kitchener, Ont., and its organizers say they chose the site "in protest" and to bring more attention to the city's growing housing problem. 

The encampment was set up on Canada Day weekend, and there are over 20 tents spread across the island. Its organizers are with Fightback K-W; some are activists who have personally experienced homelessness.

The encampment is supporting people as young as 15. People living there are supplied with the basics including sanitation products and meals — most of which are purchased by organizers. 

As of September of 2021, there were 1,085 people without a home in the region. Another encampment set up at Weber Street and Victoria Street, which has fluctuated in size, has brought the issue to the forefront in regional politics. 

Setting up in Victoria Park underlines the issue even more, organizers say.

One of the encampment organizers, Julian Ichim, says that they chose Victoria Park as their site to get the attention of Kitchener residents. (James Chaarani/CBC)

"People care when it's in their face," said Julian Ichim, an organizer who is living at the encampment. "Poverty should not be something that is hidden, and that's what they want to do. They want to hide poverty. They want to criminalize poverty." 

"By bringing poverty here, we're bringing the struggle, the class struggle here, where people have their weddings, where people have things where they can't turn a blind eye and pretend that the horrors don't exist."

Organizers were behind similar protest encampments in past years, held at different locations throughout the city.

'Best thing that's happened yet'

James Mucullin was staying at the Victoria and Weber encampment before arriving at Roos Island, and prefers the new location. 

"Here is a lot more laid back, more volunteers, there's someone always watching your stuff," Mucullin said. "Your tent doesn't go missing in the night. It's a lot more peaceful."

"I've been [in Kitchener] for about 32 years and have been addicted to heroin for 16 years now and just off and on," he added. "No place to go for about the past five years, and yeah, so this is the best thing that's happened yet so far."

The City of Kitchener knows of the encampment, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CBC News, but it said it believes the protesters won't occupy the island long term.

However, one Fightback K-W organizer said they won't move on until the city addresses the group's 13 demands, which are posted at the encampment.

Six of the group's 13 demands posted on a gazebo at the Roos Island encampment. (James Chaarani/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Chaarani is a reporter for CBC Kitchener-Waterloo and London. You can reach him at james.chaarani@cbc.ca.

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