Ottawa

Some tent city residents plan to ignore trespass notice

Some residents of a homeless encampment near an Ottawa LRT station say they plan to stay put until the city finds them accommodation nearby.

20 people have been living in wooded area near Bayview station for months

Justin Bolger stands near where his tent used to be before it burned down in a fire on Nov. 22, 2019. The fire left him homeless for the second time in less than eight months, after the rooming house he lived in burned down in the spring. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Some residents of a homeless encampment near an Ottawa LRT station say they plan to stay put until the city finds them accommodation nearby.

On Friday, the City of Ottawa issued a verbal "trespass" notice to the 10 or so residents of the tent community behind Bayview station, situated on land belonging to both the city and the National Capital Commission (NCC).

Residents say they were told they had 72 hours to leave, with a deadline of 10 a.m. Monday.

The NCC told CBC it would not take enforcement action on their lands but would ask residents to leave "once they have been provided housing."

But residents like Justin Bolger say just any housing offer isn't good enough.

"[The city] offered to take us to Vanier and give us hotel rooms, which is taking us out of where we want to be, so that's ... why we're not obviously not going to accept that," said Bolger.

The community sprung up after a pair of rooming houses burned down in separate fires in the spring, leaving residents without anywhere to go. One was on Lebreton Street, not far from the current site.

Justin Bolger, right, and David Vance explain how residents support each other and why their outdoor community feels safer and cleaner than many shelters.  1:43

Relocating to the east-of-downtown Vanier neighbourhood will take residents away from where they work, volunteer and receive help, Bolger said — and will be especially difficult for those at various stages of addiction recovery.

"It's setting us up for failure," he said. "This is where everybody calls home." 

Fire at encampment

The camp's residents had planned to live there throughout the winter until a fire broke out Nov. 22, destroying one of the tents.

That tent was Bolger's, making it the second fire in less than eight months that's destroyed his home. 

Bolger said he believes it was deliberately set by someone who didn't live in the encampment. He's currently sleeping in another resident's tent.

This is all that remains of Bolger's tent. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

It was that fire that prompted the city and NCC to declare the area unsafe.

"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," said Shelley VanBuskirk, Ottawa's director of housing services, in a statement to CBC Ottawa.

Two city councillors say the people living in Ottawa's tent community have been told to prepare to leave after a tent fire at the site. 8:42

Since then, police have been visiting the encampment every day, Bolger said, putting residents further at unease. CBC witnessed four peace officers walking around the site early Sunday afternoon.

The NCC also said its conservation officers were on site Sunday "to provide support and offer assistance to the City of Ottawa and community partners."

'Not a dignified place to live'

"The issuing of a trespass notice, and then the threat of eviction, is absolutely contrary to international human rights law and the obligations of the NCC as a state authority and against the obligations of the city," said Leilani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing.

Farha, who visited the encampment Sunday, said she was alarmed to hear residents hadn't been given housing after the rooming house fires.

"People who are so vulnerable should have been treated in a way to get them into long-term and secure housing immediately after the fire," she said.

"It's really very cold and obviously, a tent encampment is not a dignified place to live or a secure place to live."

Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, visited the tent community Sunday and spoke to some of its residents. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Farha said she's seen many tent cities around the world, and it's particularly horrible to have them in Canada — especially in the nation's capital.

"We're the 10th largest economy in the world and that means we have resources and wealth," Farha said. "There's no reason for people to be living in these conditions."