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After being prevented from physically evicting Tent City residents in Victoria Park by a court ruling, the Kitchener-Waterloo municipal government introduced on April 26 a new tactic to force people out of their last-resort homes: installing gates on both bridges to Roos island in Victoria Park, where the encampment is located.
Every year for over a decade, a gathering of homeless protesters converges on Roos Island, nestled in the heart of Kitchener's Victoria Park, with an call for safe, accessible housing. Demonstrating their commitment by setting up tents and persisting for long periods, this protest encampment, commonly known as "Tent City", has provided the backdrop for both notable achievements and fierce opposition from local authorities.
The newly installed gates at Roos Island include checkpoints guarded by hired security, bylaw officers, and police—preventing access by residents, support workers, legal aid, and the media despite promises of access for "existing campers and supporters". The next day, the community responded by demonstrating, with community members bringing food and supplies.
In response to community pressure and scrutiny from the media, the city allowed a few legal aid and support workers on the island under armed guards. During the demonstration, residents and supporters of the Tent City succeeded in opening the gate but police and bylaw officers arrived on the scene to force them back.
Julian Ichim, one of the first organizers of Tent City, told North Star: "What the city is trying to do is to remove poor people from the downtown, from places of visibility and put them in places that are not visible, as you see right here. There was a court injunction that said that these encampments were legal. They're saying that people don't want us, when you saw quite clearly that people did want us there..."
Legal experts at the scene informed North Star that this move by the municipal government is retaliation for the Ontario superior court ruling preventing the eviction of residents of Tent City. On the 26th, city employees were also recorded transporting items belonging to the residents off the island overseen by security and harassing residents on the island.
Massive housing cost rises are cited as key factors driving the crisis, with inadequate temporary solutions. Over 7,000 families in Waterloo wait for affordable housing, and chronic homelessness increased by a third from November 2020 to May 2021, per House of Friendship charity.
Ashley Schuitema, a legal representative in the charter ruling, believes the verdict has important implications. It protects encampment residents from eviction, highlighting the violation of the Charter that would occur due to the region's lack of shelter spaces. "What we're seeing here is basically coercion of the residents [...] I think the fact that services and supplies are being limited and restricted from being brought into the space is troubling."
"This year [Tent City] ran all through the winter, it's the longest its ever gone, in July it'll be a year," said Wren, a supporter of the encampment. "The housing prices are crazy and folks are homeless at extreme levels, we're also dealing with an opioid crisis, and the housing solutions that are being offered by the region are a joke [...] None of these housing solutions are happening with dignity or with the input of the homeless community."
"This is part of a bigger process," Ichim added, "when Covid came down they shut down all the small businesses and all the small housing and built condos that go for half a million or more, displacing a lot of people. [...] Rent for a single bedroom is cheaper in Calgary or Edmonton than it is here in Kitchener, and this is not a mistake, this is a government policy done on purpose."
Following the demonstration, the region charged three demonstrators for forcible entry, assaulting an officer, and "mischief" on May 9th. The trial is scheduled for July 19th. Defendants' fundraising efforts suffered a setback as GoFundMe deleted their campaign, but they have now shifted to Fundrazr.