Homeless camp residents told to pack up, councillors say

Two city councillors say about 20 people living in a makeshift tent community near Ottawa's Bayview LRT station have been told to prepare for a potential eviction. The NCC says that won't happen immediately, however.

Roughly 20 people have been living in tent community since rooming house fires

Justin Bolger emerges from a tarp-covered tent set up near Ottawa's Bayview LRT station earlier in November. Two city councillors say the people living in the tent community have been told to prepare to leave, but it's not clear when that will happen. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Two city councillors say about 20 people living in a makeshift tent community near Ottawa's Bayview LRT station have been told to prepare for a potential eviction.

In a joint statement Saturday, Catherine McKenney and Jeff Leiper said the National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa's emergency services had decided to remove the community following a tent fire there last week.

"While we do not agree with the removal, it is no longer in our power to stop it. This is a tragedy on many levels," wrote McKenney and Leiper, whose wards are closest to the community.

"These are a group of residents who lost their homes due to a fire in April who, unable to find affordable housing in their community, chose to set up an encampment together. They are now losing this site because of another fire."

Most of the residents living in the community became homeless after a pair of rooming houses burned down in separate fires in the spring.

Some spent weeks huddled in a parking lot beside one of the burned-out buildings before someone found the cleared-out area near the light rail station.

Many of the camp's residents had already settled in for winter, with insulated tents being kept warm by kerosene heaters running off of car batteries. They've said they prefer these outdoor living arrangements to staying in one of Ottawa's crowded, busy, and potentially dangerous shelters.

"We have ensured that all of the original residents of the encampment who were displaced by the rooming house fire have been offered housing or motel rooms until housing is available, and that the city will fund temporary overflow capacity at one of our shelters," Leiper and McKenney wrote in their statement.

Tresspass notice issued

Shelley VanBuskirk, the city's director of housing services, told CBC News in a statement Saturday the camp's residents were given a "verbal notice of trespass" Friday afternoon.

"With the presence of propane on site, the safety risks to both the individuals at the tent encampment and the first responders attending the scene are increasing. The decision was made with everyone's safety and security in mind," VanBuskirk said.

Housing case managers had been assigned to the encampment residents, VanBuskirk said, and some would have permanent housing "as early as the first week of December."

In its own statement, the National Capital Commission said it "supports the efforts" to secure more permanent housing for the residents of the tent community and that it would not immediately be evicting people from NCC property.

However, NCC spokesperson Sofia Benjelloun also said "verbal notices" had been issued, asking residents to leave the encampment once they'd been given housing.

"While we recognize the health and safety risks for these residents means the encampment is not a sustainable solution, we want to provide our municipal and community partners the opportunity and time to find housing options," wrote Benjelloun.

"We will not be taking enforcement action related to NCC lands on Monday as has been suggested."

Ottawa police said Saturday afternoon they had not yet been called in to deal with the situation.

With files from Kimberley Molina