Saskatchewan

Occupy camp was refuge for Saskatoon's homeless

A man who found temporary refuge at the now-dismantled Occupy Saskatoon camp says he hopes to find a permanent home and give back to the protest movement that sheltered him for a few weeks.

Homeless man joined for the food, stayed for the protest

Housing and the homeless became a major theme at the Occupy Saskatoon camp. (CBC)

A man who found temporary refuge at the now-dismantled Occupy Saskatoon camp says he hopes to find a permanent home and give back to the protest movement that sheltered him for a few weeks.

Ryan Desjarlais, 20, was one of several homeless people who joined the Occupy movement in Saskatoon, which began as a protest over economic injustice.

The issue of affordable housing and the homeless, however, soon became the focus of attention as more people like Desjarlais joined the camp.

The makeshift Saskatoon camp in the city's Gabriel Dumont Park was dismantled earlier this week, after city officials and social service agencies ensured everyone living in tents had someplace to go.

Desjarlais, who had been homeless for about a year, is now staying in a dormitory at the Salvation Army.

"I still do dream of it," Desjarlais said about his goal of finding a permanent home. "I still do want it. And so with that in my head I'm like, I have to work further and further. Even if it's a job at McDonald's or at Tim Horton's or working minimum wage jobs."

Attracted by warmth and food

Desjarlais said he initially joined the Occupy Saskatoon camp to take advantage of a warm fire and regular meals.

He says he stayed after learning more about why the protesters were there.

"Even now I feel I would be willing to support them and be willing to be in their camp," he said, unfazed by the arrival of icy winter temperatures.

While the Occupy Saskatoon protesters tried to find permanent homes for the people who joined them, that effort did not work out.

"I would like things to move a little faster," Jo-Ann Coleman-Pidskalny, the chair of a homeless advisory committee in Saskatoon, told CBC News. "I respect the planning processes, but sometimes it's not as responsive to the need as it could be."

The Occupy Saskatoon movement began Oct. 15, initially in the city-owned Friendship Park along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. The demonstration then moved to Gabriel Dumont Park.

The number varies as to how many people slept in the parks each night. Saskatoon city manager Murray Totland estimated there were as many as eight tents in Friendship Park and that grew to about 12 tents in Gabriel Dumont Park.

The city issued an eviction notice on Sunday. Totland said the demonstrators peacefully packed up and left on Monday.

 

With files from The Canadian Press