No easy fix for homeless encampments, shelter

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This plywood shed built by a man named “Nate” is located on a municipal walkway on the south bank of the Thames River behind the Boardwalk apartment complex on King Street in downtown Chatham.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Removing vagrants and homeless encampments from public lands isn’t as easy as you might think.

That’s according to Dave Taylor, Chatham-Kent’s director of legal services.

Taylor’s comments came during a recent town-hall meeting regarding crime and safety in downtown Chatham held at the Boardwalk on the Thames apartment building on King Street. A crowd of around 60 downtown business owners and residents, as well as members of the Tecumseh Park Neighbourhood Association, attended the forum.

Top municipal officials, including the chiefs of police and fire, as well as several Chatham-Kent councillors, attended the meeting as well.

“You can’t just move people away from public spaces,” Taylor told the crowd. “We’re definitely hearing the frustration from citizens. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

Earlier this year, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that a plan by the Waterloo region to evict encampment residents on municipal property was a Charter of Rights and Freedoms violation. Now, municipalities from across Ontario are grappling with the fallout from that decision.

Compounding the problem is the fact that as of 2019, vagrancy is no longer a criminal code violation.

A number of questions were raised about homeless people living in makeshift shelters and encampments in the downtown area and Tecumseh Park. Several people asked about a six-by-six plywood shed-type shelter, built by a man known as “Nate,” that’s located on the walkway directly behind the Boardwalk building along the river.

The shelter has a roof and a door that’s equipped with a padlock.

One Boardwalk resident questioned why encampments are allowed, saying she’s unable to use Tecumseh Park due to dirty needles, people using the park as an open-air toilet, and fears of violence from mentally ill people behaving erratically.

“They’ve got more rights than we do,” the woman said.

“Why are they able to use the park like this when we’re the ones paying for it?” another Boardwalk resident asked.

A male resident, who lives on the building’s eighth floor facing the park, said he hears people screaming every night and watches as individuals dumping garbage, setting fires, and causing disturbances.

“It’s a mess,” the man said. “Why don’t you have police there?”

A pair of downtown business owners also asked why the municipality isn’t doing more to make the downtown a safer place.

Kelly Robinson, who co-owns the Jenn & Co. Beauty Bar with his wife, said customers are afraid to come to the downtown salon, noting there are ongoing disturbances caused by vagrants.

Robinson said his wife is afraid when she enters and leaves the King Street property when heading to her car.

“I have to constantly deal with issues at the building,” Robinson stressed. “There’s always something going on.”

Mark Pilon, who owns property on Fourth Street and also co-owns a business, wants to know why there isn’t more enforcement in Chatham’s core.

Pilon’s property is located beside the Hope Haven parking lot, noting there are usually between 16 to 30 people hanging out there.

“What’s being done to assist the downtown business owners?” Pilon asked. “We have to keep our doors locked at our business because we don’t want the homeless coming in. My wife works there and she doesn’t feel safe.

“What is city council planning to do to deal with this?” Pilon questioned.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Yep, Chathams downtown looks nice but is a shithole in reality. Start throwing fet dealers in jail for 25 years. Copy European homelessness models. Or not. Doesn’t matter. Canada is done for as a country, a matter of time now.

  2. Pam wright is it necessary to use an outdated stigmatizing term such as vagrants? I can think of a many different terms to show humility to our community members displaced by homelessness. I think its time to stop the “not in my backyard mentality” and get angry that we allow people to experience a preventable hardship. The women who said they have more rights then we do, I kindly ask you to reflect on that statement, Do you have a place to call home, food in your belly and a bathroom to use? People who lack the bare necessity’s develop many different complex issues, including but not exclusive to Substance use and misuse. Publicly shaming people divides and perpetuates isolation in our communities. I pray that you never experience a number of social determents that play a factor in experiencing homelessness.

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