London

Tent city at Western Fair dismantled but housing found for 30 people

The city said it's moved 30 people from the homeless camp at Queens Park into transitional housing.

30 people have been moved into transitional housing over the past few weeks

A security vehicle stationed at Queens Park, near the Western Fair, where more than 40 people had been living in tents. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

There's barely anything left to mark the place where a homeless camp once stood at Queens Park, near the Western Fair District. 

The space was vacated Tuesday morning, leaving behind a few pieces of garbage, a broken tent pole and a security guard vehicle where several tents had been the night before. 

The site was a temporary home for, at one point, more than 40 people, said Kevin Dickins, the acting manager of housing with the City of London. But since the end of May, social services had been working "privately and discreetly" to get 30 people living there into transitional housing, he explained. 

"This was the culmination of a plan that had been in the works for quite awhile. A lot of really heavy lifting, a lot of intensive work from a lot of service providers." 

The city is currently using 174 hotel rooms to house people during the pandemic,150 of which are being leveraged with funding from the provincial and federal governments. 

The homeless encampment clustered at the south end of Queens Park, before it was taken down Tuesday. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

London had previously lifted a ban on encampments like the one at Queens Park, which under normal circumstances would have been regularly torn down because of health risks and because the people living in them had few places to go. 

Not much of a warning

Dan Sawyer said he has a home, but he would often stay and sleep at the encampment because it's where his friends were living. "I'm just trying to help," he said Tuesday, while waiting with the belongings of a friend who he said was being placed in a home. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

Despite having a home of his own, Dan Sawyer said he stayed and slept at the encampment often because it was where all of his friends were. He was one of the few people in the area around noon Tuesday, waiting with the belongings of a friend who he said was getting help with housing. 

"Yesterday morning they were told they had to leave today by 8 p.m," he said. "They didn't give much of a warning. But a little bit."

"I understand it, if they would have let it go there would have been no park left. It would have been packed full. It just sucks because there's nowhere else to go." 

Sawyer said most people left the park and headed for another area along Maitland Street.

"What am I going to do? I don't know," said Charlie. He said the encampment taken down Tuesday morning had been quiet, and that everyone worked together and tried to keep things tidy. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

Charlie, who only provided a first name, said people were caught off guard Tuesday morning. 

"Surprisingly enough, everybody moved out pretty quick, went their separate ways, or went to a different area." 

He said the encampment was like a "normal complex" and that people worked together, didn't argue and kept the space clean. 

"What am I going to do?" asked Charlie. "I don't know yet."

Still committed to compassion

There were about a dozen people still living at Queens Park as of Tuesday morning, said Dickins. A few of them turned down an outreach team's offer of support, and all of them had plans to go elsewhere, he said.

"The city is never really supporting a quote, unquote tent city because we know there are some concerns with how that can lead to deeper rooted homelessness," said Dickins. "But we are taking a very compassionate approach to supporting people where they're at, and Queens Park was no different."

A few pieces of garbage, including this broken tent pole, were the only things left behind after a community of tents was taken down in east London Tuesday morning. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

No one was forced to leave and no one's belongings were taken, said Dickins. London police were on scene as people packed their belongings.

"Once people had grabbed their stuff and after everyone vacated the park, we started to do more intensive clean up. We want to make sure we restore the park to where it needs to be, so it can be used for some other intended purposes that are about to start," he explained. 

Dickins said other programs, such as children's day camps, will begin in the area soon.

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