As reported previously, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven vulnerable populations, who would normally access an already overburdened shelter system, to living outdoors. While the City has taken significant steps to find alternative housing options and has started to help move people from tents to buildings, there are still many encampments throughout the city. In the Village, the largest encampments have been in Barbara Hall Park and George Hislop Park.
Because of the pandemic, the municipal government had placed a moratorium on encampment evictions. However, the encampments have led to their own set of safety and security issues for both those living outdoors and residents in the surrounding community: effective COVID-19 prevention measures like social distancing and regular hand washing are difficult to implement; basic sanitation has been a challenge; and there has been an increase in anti-social behaviour. Some residents who live near the parks feel unsafe; others who would normally use and enjoy the parks, avoid them. For all these reasons, exceptions are being made to the no-evictions policy.
In early June, the encampment at Barbara Hall Park was successfully cleared, with individuals offered assistance in moving to much safer and fully serviced accommodations. As of June 18, there are no tents in Barbara Hall Park. More residents are now using the park as intended and there have been two Sunday morning community clean-ups.
The encampment at George Hislop Park and the adjacent private property, owned by Sanctuary Ministries, has so far not been cleared. While some people have been successfully relocated to better accommodations, more tents soon appear in the vacated park spaces.
The longstanding failure of federal, provincial and municipal governments to prioritize housing affordability, homelessness, mental health and addiction has led to the current encampments situation. CWNA supports the measures taken so far to address the immediate crisis, but much more needs to be done.
[For news on the homelessness and encampments situation, see Ward 13 News Updates (usually under the title 'Encampments' or 'COVID 19 Updates']