"Today I ask that we own these actions, admitting that within our new awareness lay a clear responsibility for their effects, including the further harm and trauma caused via the displacement of these people.
I ask that instead of the status quo, we make a different choice - that we choose change, that we choose compassion, that we choose community."
How are we still here? How are we even further from our goal of ending homelessness than we were a few years ago. Instead of sprinting towards our goal, we seem to have readjusted the goal line to suit our own delay. Why? The numbers of those currently unhoused have drastically increased in the last year. If we were at crisis level before, what does that mean for where we are now?
We now have at least 1,085 people experiencing homelessness in Waterloo region, up from 333 people in 2018, at the time of the last point-in-time count. These numbers fail to reflect the many others who are precariously housed, fearing that they themselves are too not far from being without a home.
When covid first hit, and our world suddenly closed its door, I pleaded alongside many others for a space that those without shelter could place their tents.
It remains unthinkable to me that those with no access to a place to sleep, those who now have lost even their last resort of communal shelter, will continue being at risk of being further uprooted,and their own efforts at self preservation put in jeopardy.
At a time of no other options for shelter, encampment displacement forces repeated infraction of the same bylaw justifying the initial removal or places residents in a position where they must trespass on private property to survive. This criminalizes individuals, while also directly placing already vulnerable people at further substantial risk of physical and psychological harm.
We can't keep shifting the responsibility for these issues that can have life or death consequences. The Region has shown its recognition of the need to address systemic inequities, reflected in many of its efforts and decisions in recent times. However, when it comes to those who do not have homes, it is hard for me to find this to be anything but an ongoing, biased and cruel systemic injustice that these neighbours of ours are facing - one requiring change.
Our Region has clearly identified a deficit of current shelter alternatives, and shown that it is unable to meet local need at this time. Until we can meet the need, the least we need to be doing to assist is allowing those with tents and other make-shift shelters a safe place to camp. Further action is, of course, still required, including providing brick and mortar homes, and this should remain prioritized.
For now, those unable to find other options must be permitted to shelter from the elements without needing to repeatedly start over in creating an environment that can protect them. The ongoing removal of this necessity of life, specifically the protection from the elements shelter offers, directly imposes further risk of harm to the displaced individuals. This risk is currently unable to be mitigated by alternate housing or accessible shelter space, as confirmed in the recent point in time count. These exceptional circumstances require us to take urgent alternate measures.
Last month, the BC Supreme Court of Justice exemplified social empathy in its verdict to dismiss an injunction being sought by the City of Prince George to dismantle an encampment that had formed on public property. In its ruling it noted that the inhabitants had no alternate lawful way to comply with the request, recognizing the lack of available shelter. It was refreshing to see the humanity and dignity of this verdict - will you offer the same?
I realize that other rulings have allowed the dismantling of these homes on public land, yet I remain concerned that continuing to do so, in such exceptional circumstances as those we face today, is an infraction of the Section 7 Charter Rights of these people: most specifically their right to security of person.
Today I ask that we own these actions, admitting that within our new awareness lay a clear responsibility for their effects, including the further harm and trauma caused via the displacement of these people. I ask that instead of the status quo, we make a different choice - that we choose change, that we choose compassion, that we choose community.
I am here to clearly request that two things be immediately put into place by this Council:
1)Regional land be ordered found where those currently being forced to seek shelter on our streets may be permitted to place/erect shelters without penalty.
2)Until such a location is found and functioning, I ask that the removal of these substitute homes be considered stopped, given that the structures are located on Regional land and not private property.
I humbly ask that this Council hold a motion and discussion on these requests today and that their initiation take place without delay pending Council’s approval.
This is not a hard decision. This is doing the bare minimum for a fellow human: offering them a basic chance at survival, particularly as winter comes. And moreover, as our Canadian Charter requires us to do.
Let’s lead in compassion, as much as we do in our innovative capacities, not because we are required to do so, but because it is the right and ethical decision.
Thank you for taking the time to hear me today.
Written by Regan Sunshine Brusse
Edited & Supported by Alliance Against Poverty
Looking more at Unsheltered displacement - Blog Post 11/25/21
"We go to meetings after meetings and talk about the same sets of problems but without the help of the region we have nothing to stand on. We need someone to listen and follow what people say, not come back and say there's nothing we can do, because there are a million different things we can be doing and we are NOT.”
- Above quoted from: Stories and Narratives Report on the 2021 Point In Time Count
13-050 - "Code of Use" -
"A By-law Respecting the Conduct of Persons Entering Upon Buildings, Grounds and Public Transportation Vehicles Owned or Occupied by The Regional Municipality of Waterloo"
"Decriminalize Homeless Encampments in Waterloo Region"
- Letter sent in August 2021 by Unsheltered Campaign holding strong grassroots support including:
50 by 30 Waterloo Region
A Better Tent City
Alliance Against Poverty
Awareness of Low Income Voices
Canadian Federation of University Women
Community Legal Services Waterloo Region
Conestoga Students Inc.
Disabilities and Human Rights
Fair Vote Waterloo Region
Food Not Bombs
Green Light Arts
Ground Up WR
KW Community Co-op Kitchen
KW Urban Native Wigwam Project
Peace for All Canada
People’s Action Group
Reception House Waterloo Region
Shamrose for Syrian Culture
Social Development Centre Waterloo Region
Spiritual Heritage Education Network
Waterloo Region Community Garden Network
Waterloo Region Yes In My Back Yard
(as sourced from above links 21/11/21)
Judge rules homeless camp in downtown Prince George can stay due to lack of shelters in city - CBC News
Francis Gresham in delegate to Region of Waterloo, November 9th, 2021
Because there must always be tunes...
"I know that you are committed to housing first, yet being unsheltered and living rough remains a crime and being addicted remains stigmatized," she said. "Rather than forcing unsheltered residents to fit into your service offerings, I'm asking that you centre the needs of these complex, social beings as you expand supportive housing in our region. And expand it you must."