Advocates say more support is needed to tackle homelessness after encampment eviction
Encampment at Charles Street East and Stirling Avenue South cleared on Friday
A local mother says she feels "hopeless" after an encampment where her son lived was cleared by the region on Friday.
"He has no place to go," said Laura Edwards. She was among dozens of people who gathered on Sunday at the corner of Charles Street East and Stirling Avenue South, where the encampment was located.
They protested the region's decision to clear the space that provided shelter to several people. They also called for more support to tackle homelessness.
Advocates said regional bylaw officers joined police officers during the eviction, which also involved a bulldozer. Edwards said her son received an eviction notice four or five days prior.
On Saturday, the region released a statement attributed to Bruce Lauckner, the chief administrative officer. In it, Lauckner said the region is reviewing the process used to clear the encampment.
He said staff worked with community partners over the last week and a half to support the people who lived there.
"All individuals were connected to outreach and other services and made aware of supports and available housing across the community," Lauckner said in the statement.
More services needed
Edwards said her son is now staying at A Better Tent City, a community made up of tents and cabins as an alternative to the shelter system.
But she said this doesn't solve the problem. She said more permanent solutions are needed, such as regional funding into services that cover mental health, addictions and housing.
"You need to shape the whole body, mind and spirit ... You can't be healthy without the whole circle," she said.
"Some of these empty buildings that are in the city, I think [the region] needs to open them up, get some staff and put these people in it that have resorted to staying in tents in these temperatures."
Advocates who attended the gathering echoed that statement, including Kitchener Centre NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo.
"People are starting to see the depth of the problem that the notion of an encampment as the last resort is being criminalized in a way that puts the burden of poverty on the shoulders of the most marginalized," she said.
"What they're demanding is that the burden of poverty be put where it belongs, which is on the shoulders of the people that have investments to break down the systems that are failing so many of us."
The incident comes as regional councillors are planning the 2022 budget.
For many at the event, a main point of contention is with Waterloo Regional Police Service's proposed budget increase of $12.4 million to hire 35 additional officers.
They support the local advocacy group ReAllocate Waterloo Region, which opposes the police proposal. Instead, the group wants that money reallocated in part to address housing and homelessness.
The region's most recent point-in-time count showed there are 1,085 people who are experiencing homelessness. A significant proportion — about 412 people — were living rough, including in encampments.
In emailed statements to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton and Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, who both sit on regional council, said councillors didn't have advance notice of the incident.
"We were not aware of this, but will ask for a staff report for discussion," said Foxton.
"Out of concern about how the situation was handled, I reached out to the chair and CAO and requested that staff conduct a full review with recommendations about how to better handle these situations in the future," Vrbanovic said. "I understand that staff have committed to do that."
The region did not immediately respond to follow-up questions.