‘This is not what we are’: regional council addresses public protest over elimination of homeless camp

KITCHEN ROOM –

The removal of a homeless camp in Kitchener sparked public backlash and protest, and now Waterloo Region council members are carefully considering how similar situations will be handled in the future.

The region’s managing director addressed public concerns during a virtual council meeting on Monday.

“All residents deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Bruce Lauckner. “On Friday we couldn’t do that. Seeing the Friday footage hit a lot of people. It hit me a lot. This is not who we are.”

He added that “as CAO I take full responsibility.”

The Council also heard more about the decisions and events that led to Friday’s eviction.

Rod Regier, the Planning, Development and Legislative Services commissioner, said the region received public safety complaints about the camp at Stirling Avenue and Charles Street, which was set up in late September.

Those included “concerns that the camp was in close proximity to a bus stop, a high school and contained exposed sharps” or needles.

Regier told the council that staff from the region’s licensing and compliance division went to the site and, after determining it was on regional property, contacted local housing services. It was then that a mobile homeless outreach group was incorporated to connect with people in the camp and provide them with support and shelter options.

Regier said there was enough space in the shelter system for everyone in the camp.

On November 19, the council heard that the bylaws were informed of the situation and that a notice of violation would be issued.

Regier said staff went to the site on Nov. 24 to inform the people living there that they had to leave the camp by Nov. 24 at 9 a.m. He added that notices were also posted at the three Stirling and Charles stores. like the nearby bus stop. Other agencies, such as Ray of Hope and House of Friendship, were also notified of the decision.

“Staff arrived at the site at 10 am,” Regier said. “All but two of the people had already left the property. The remaining two people reported that they did not intend to leave. At this point, police services were notified and officers arrived at approximately 10:45 am. We understand. that they did. They did not confront the remaining people, but left the space at 2 pm Then the cleanup of the space began. “

He also addressed the decision to bring heavy machinery.

“Due to concerns stemming from generally unsanitary conditions, large items such as sofas, a mattress, and drug paraphernalia, including exposed sharps, the cleanup approach included employing a heavy-duty highway maintenance crew. The decision to remove the belongings with heavy equipment was made to protect the health and safety of the staff and the community, the way it was carried out does not reflect the dignity of those who live in the camp. “

Those actions, as well as the photos that were shared online, sparked a public reaction.

Some 200 protesters gathered at the scene on Sunday to demand responses.

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic also released a statement saying that he “reached out to the president and the CAO and requested that staff conduct a full review with recommendations on how to better handle these situations in the future.”

The Council was informed on Monday that discussions would be ongoing and that a review would be submitted at a later date.

Some of the issues that will be discussed are the role of the police and the approval process.

“This was a complete operational and government collapse,” Coun said. Sean Strickland at the meeting. “How could that process have been approved, using a front loader, without the proper checks and balances within the organizational structure of the region, down to the commissioner and CEO level, and then from there to the council.”

“I think collectively, as an organization and as a council, we are saying that we have to do better,” Vrbanovic said.

Lauckner is also committed to the review process.

“We will modify our process to ensure that residents and their belongings are treated with respect and dignity,” he said. “This is not the result that anyone wanted or deserved. We need to do better and we will do better. I want to express my deepest apologies to the residents harmed by our actions.”

Earlier this month, the House of Friendship announced that they would lose their shelter space at a Guelph hotel, leaving about 70 men without a place to stay. The organization has been working on temporary solutions, including providing transitional housing at its former shelter location on Charles Street in Kitchener.

Lawrence Lutgendorff, fundraising and communication manager at Ray of Hope, said there must be a more comprehensive solution to the homeless problem.

“A review should include longer-term planning on how to deal with homelessness: the number of people in shelters, the number of beds in shelters that are available, the services that are available during the day. That is the kind of thing that Ray of Hope most concerned about. “

A Better Tent City has confirmed to CTV News that they are helping one of the displaced residents of the camp.

– With information from Heather Senoran

Reference-kitchener.ctvnews.ca

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