Advocates ‘very sad’ by lack of help for homeless encampment residents

On Monday, residents of an encampment at Milligan’s Park in Barrie, Ont., were issued a bylaw violation notice for camping in a public park without authority and placing debris on city property. The roughly 13 people in the encampment were given 24 hours to pack up and move.

However, with no other options and having already moved the site previously, those in the encampment found themselves looking into their legal options. That is when Christine Nayler, co-founder and director of Ryan’s Hope, an organization that advocates and provides support for people with substance use issues and experiencing homelessness, called York Region Community Legal Clinic. “It’s very, very sad, and it’s just misinformed, and it’s not helpful. Where does the city want them to go?” Nayler asks.

Jeff Schlemmer, executive director of the legal clinic, says several cases involving encampments in the last few years have “clarified the rules,” adding that municipalities cannot remove people without providing them with adequate options. “The case law is consistent; there are cases in Kingston and Waterloo in the last couple of years where the court has refused to grant an injunction to the municipality to allow them to evict encampment residents, and there was one in Toronto and one in Hamilton where they were allowed to evict because they found that there were adequate, accessible alternative accommodations.”

Schlemmer sent a cease and desist letter to the city outlining that the plan to remove those living in the park would go against similar court decisions in other communities. “Given wholly inadequate ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) and OW (Ontario Works) shelter allowances paid to Ontario’s disabled citizens and the substantial increase in rents, making it virtually impossible for them to find rental accommodation, homelessness is predicted to continue to increase for the foreseeable future,” Schlemmer wrote. “A practical plan is needed beyond simply evicting homeless citizens from encampments.”

In response to his letter, the City of Barrie said in a statement Tuesday that “given the Ontario Court decisions and the lack of available shelter space at this time, (it) is not proceeding with evictions. However, Municipal Law Enforcement staff are advising individuals when their actions or behaviours are contrary to municipal bylaws.”

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