About one month after the closing of Roos Island to encampment members, Fightback KW announced their 24-hour challenge called The Unhoused Experience. The challenge formally took place from 6 p.m. on May 26 to 6 p.m. on May 27 at Willow River Park, despite warning by city staff that the event could violate bylaws. Since Apr. 26, people were unable to access Roos island in Willow River Park. The city of Waterloo claims the move “is to better support people who are living in the area.” 

 Due to interference from by-law and security officers, the challenge ended at 12 p.m. instead. Fightback KW’s goal is to raise awareness, educate allies and support the unhoused community with peaceful programs like these.  

The event had two parts. The first focused on education and featured speakers who have lived experience with being unhoused. The second part allows participants to experience life in the park at night. Members of Land Back Camp came to support and lit a sacred fire for those in attendance. Drumming and singing were also held by Land Back in solidarity with Fightback KW.  

“There are only two or three tents really left on the island. The one couple [is] looking for housing, but then there’s another individual there and she’s actually very happy outdoors on her own. If they do ever force her out of there, I don’t know what she’d do,” Ed Edwards, a Fightback KW organizer, said. 

Fightback KW said the region is grossly unequipped to help its unhoused population. By the start of June, the Region of Waterloo will have less than 250 emergency shelter beds. There are currently more than 1,000 unsheltered community members, and this number is set to grow exponentially given the cost-of-living crisis. With summer coming up, unhoused folks need more support and material resources to survive.  

“And it’s not a simple solution just to say that we’ve got 50 spaces, there’s 50 homeless people, so problem solved, right? Because there’s all sorts of different situations,” Edwards said. 

In the summer 2022, the Roos Island encampment grew to about 60 tents. What started as a protest, Roos Island quickly became a community for people experiencing homelessness. In the early spring of 2023, the city closed access to Heritage Bridge. As of April, the city would not confirm which specific shelters Roos Island inhabitants would move to in the coming days.  

“Basically, there were cops or by law or security at pretty much every entrance to the park and they were questioning people as to why they were coming in and I think a lot of people just got scared off by that,” Edwards said. 

As of April 2023 this year, there is a new tiny home shelter at 1001 Erbs Road. The tiny homes come equipped with the ability to be moved. This housing project was built by Housing Now, a Toronto based construction company. However, how is the unhoused population meant to feel safe? What is the city’s plan aside from 1001 Erds Road? If there is no more room for those on Roo’s Island, not enough beds, what is the city going to do?