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The residents of a homeless camp in Cobourg, Ontario, have been forced to move three times since their initial settlement on a rocky beach in early August. Eviction notices, backed by the risk of property confiscation, compelled them to move from municipal to county-owned land, and eventually to an unused facility outside Brookside, formerly a youth detention center. North Star correspondents were present to document their second relocation.
The last of the residents of the encampment on county-owned land were able to disperse by the evening of September 7th. The previous day had been a whirlwind as residents attempted to vacate before the noon "cleanup" which ended up being delayed until September 8th.
Meanwhile, Northumberland County told residents and local news that the cleanup would not be rescheduled. Residents worked throughout the day on the 6th, while the humidex peaked at 37°, to gather their belongings and figure out where they could set up next. One resident suffered a seizure in the midst of the heat and stress, but got back to work moving out the next day.
The second notice to vacate came less than two weeks after they left their last encampment, and was based, as with the previous one, on Ontario's Trespass to Property Act. A representative of Northumberland County told local news that the plan was to “support a transition from encampment to community services.” The only homeless shelter in the county, Transition House, has a capacity of 22, while estimates of the number of homeless in Northumberland are anywhere from 100-300.
The encampment had some sharps containers to use instead of a toilet until community advocates helped obtain a porta-potty from the county which soon filled up. This stall was gone by the time NorthStar correspondents arrived on September 5th. Residents were left without any means of sanitation, and an electrical connection promised to them was disconnected soon after they arrived.
Most encampment residents relocated to land outside Brookside, a former youth detention center with 14 buildings. The facility is consistently brought up by townspeople, community advocates, and the homeless as being a place to shelter those who can't find shelter otherwise. Calls to open the premises to the homeless have been shot down by authorities as it's conversion would be stalled by bureaucracy.
Within a day of arriving at Brookside, encampment residents were served a notice by "His Majesty the King in right of Ontario" to vacate the property "immediately", although this was not enforced. On September 18th they were served yet another notice to vacate within 48 hours. Cobourg Police and representatives of Infrastructure Ontario arrived on the morning of the 21st to enforce this latest notice.
Northumberland County's Affordable Housing Strategy Final Report (2019) claims to take a "human rights-based" approach to housing. That being said, a recommendation by the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, supported by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, states that "A rights-based approach to encampments requires all governments, including municipalities and the federal government, to end their practices of using trespass orders, bylaws, and policing to forcibly evict unhoused people from encampments.” Physical force may not have been used as of yet, though threatening to dispose of resident's belongings seems to be producing the desired effect.