On Friday, Nov. 26, a bulldozer took down a tent encampment on the corner of Charles St. E. and Stirling Ave. Jude Oudshoorn, a post-secondary educator in the region and member of ReallocateWR, helped organize a protest on Nov. 28 in support of the people that were forcibly removed.
“We need to increase opportunities for housing in this region. The housing is so unaffordable, and we need to be able to do something different…And the bigger picture is that we continue to overspend on police in this region. We’re continuing to punish our way of social problems and things are only going to get worse,” Oudshoorn said.
Around 30 people gathered on the street corner holding signs and listening to speakers from the community. They donated tents, sleeping bags, money and more.
Along with Laura Mae Lindo, MP of Kitchener Centre, and Amy Smoke from the Land Back Camp, there were members of other organizations and the community in general.
“I spend so much of my time as an elected official talking about the importance of putting more love into the universe, of leading with love. That means treating every single person with love, care, compassion and recognizing their dignity,” Lindo said.
The group advocated leading with love and chanted “we love you!” for all the speakers. Natasha Joy, one of the attendees, said there was a need for more compassion in how people dealing with homelessness are treated. She attended the protest with her partner and two children.
“Our family is here to support the people that have been affected by this. It’s really sad that so many people can go home and sleep in a nice warm safe home and so many people don’t have that. It is affecting way too many people. It’s a sad thought to think that so many people are cold and hungry and alone, and that the city and the police has come in and have destroyed what little possessions they had,” Joy said.
For Smoke, the issue was greater than this one incident. They said reiterated Land Back Camp’s support for the displaced people and said that along with an issue of homelessness, this incident was a demonstration of sovereignty issues. In a country founded after forcibly removing Indigenous people, Canada continues to remove people from land they do not own.
“Today for people who are being violently removed from their homes, Indigenous people are well aware of what that feels like. We are unsheltered, we are unhoused, on our own lands. The First People are being treated the same way. Governments will do that to you too. They will treat you like that too. They will change their minds,” Smoke said.
“These systems were built so that they can clear the lands for resource extraction and make everything real pretty for that status quo. We need to disrupt those systems. We need to stop allowing colonial enforcement and militarized state violence against people who are just trying to survive on these lands,” they said.
One of the speakers, identified only as Laura, had a son who was displaced from the encampment last week. She said there was a need for more drop-in services and supports for people.
“My son was removed from this encampment on Friday. I’m sure he had notice, but he had nowhere to go. The problem is not just housing, it’s the people with mental illness and addictions. They need more support and more drop-in centres where they are allowed to go regardless of behaviour. He’s not perfect but neither are the rest of us. He still deserves a warm place to be in a Canadian winter,” she said. “There is no place for these people to go and stay warm and we need to fight for it. It could be us and it could be your child one day and it’s not easy.”
According to Rod Regier, Commissioner of Planning, Development and Legislative services, the encampment was set up and the end of September and removed after the region received public safety concerns including exposed sharps and proximity to a high school and a bus shelter.
Bruce Lackner, Chief Administrative Officer of the region, took full responsibility during a virtual council meeting on Monday.
“All residents deserved to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Bruce Lauckner. “On Friday we failed to do that. Seeing the images from Friday hit a lot of people hard. It hit me hard. This is not who we are,” he said.
Karen Redman, Regional Chair, told the Mike Farwell Show on CityNews 570 that she found out about the encampment being removed from social media. She said an investigation will take place and finding shelter for people during the winter will be a priority for the council.
“We’re very lucky in our region that we have the talent and the know-how with our partners to meet the needs of homeless residents. We’ve always operated that we need to find them shelter and the long-term goal will always be that everyone has a safe and stable place to call home,” she said.
With the provincial elections coming up in 2022, speakers urged attendees to think about who they will choose to lead them. Lindo said the priority should be to choose people that would use their power and privilege to lead communities with love and ensure the supports needed by the most marginalized sectors of our community are readily available.
“When the only option to ensure that community members are treated with love, care and dignity when we see an encampment is to call by-law, there’s a problem. We need to be able to rely on services, upstream supports—services that treat people with love and care, services that people have access to what they need. That’s who we have to be able to call…if we don’t have enough people to be able to provide them with care and support for those that are the most marginalized, then we are not electing the right people,” she said.
“We need to make sure that we use our power and our privilege and our voices to get more people that are willing to be courageous, to lead with love, to centre the most marginalized, to stand in the cold in order to ensure to ensure that other people have access to housing, to supports, to treatments, to whatever it is that they need to be able to thrive,” Lindo said.