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On the morning of September 28th, heavy equipment was deployed to clear the remnants of a homeless encampment in Cambridge, which had been a temporary home for around 50 individuals. This took place just a month after residents from a prior displaced camp had relocated to Soper Park.
Encampment residents were busy packing up to move when North Star correspondents arrived Tuesday afternoon. Moving trucks were on the way to assist them in grabbing as many of their possessions as they could as the deadline next morning loomed.
The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in the Waterloo region has increased by 129% since January of 2020, while the shelter system and supportive housing programs are unable to keep up due to underfunding and inaccessibility for those with specific housing needs.
Across the region in Kitchener, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in January than an encampment in the city's downtown could not be removed as the local shelter system wasn't able to provide for the specific shelter needs of the city's homeless. As encampments are being set up and torn down across the province, it is becoming clear that this ruling has not provided the legal precedent expected by the media and community organizers outside that specific situation.
A recent report on homelessness in the region shows how the housing crisis is straining the system: "In 2023, approximately $40 million will be invested into the local homelessness system in various service areas (outreach, prevention, shelter, supportive housing, etc.). Based on current state and future trends, this investment will not keep pace with the growing need for additional supports to end chronic homelessness."
Troublingly, the report highlights a 33% surge in the number of refugees and asylum seekers seeking shelter services in 2023. Additionally, it reveals an ongoing pattern of service worker burnout as they wrestle with the repercussions of inadequate funding and the resources available to them.
This situation underscores the widespread problem of access to shelters that people are increasingly facing across the country, from Vancouver to Halifax, extending to Iqaluit and every locality in between. A succinct summary of the Waterloo Region report frankly articulates this problem, stating: "The hyper-financialized capitalist model of housing cannot be reconciled with housing as a human right."