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Tents remain at Kitchener encampment as vacate deadline passes (update)

While the region had issued a deadline for residents to vacate the Weber & Victoria encampment by 9 a.m. on Thursday, many residents still remain on site - some adamant that they have no intention to leave
Victoria encampment June 6 2022
The Victoria encampment the morning of June 6, 2022

Despite the Region of Waterloo issuing a notice to vacate to those encamped at the corner of Weber & Victoria in Kitchener, many seem to have chosen to not heed the posted deadline.

Issued earlier this month on June 6, the region had warned residents that they had until 9 a.m. June 30 to vacate, offering supports for housing, shelter and healthcare to those who may need it through existing partnerships and community organizations.

Just this week, the region made it clear that its plans for Thursday's deadline would not include enforcement efforts - issuing a statement to clarify that regional bylaw and regional police would not be on site for the posted deadline, and would not be forcibly removing anyone. Instead, plans moving forward will see the region consulting with the courts for advice on next steps.

As of Thursday morning, many tents still remain at the encampment, while those residing at Weber & Victoria have been joined by a group of demonstrators for a planned rally of solidarity. Those protesting at the encampment have expressed their intention to remain there for the day, looking to send a clear message of opposition to the region's planned eviction of the site.

Kamil Ahmed an organizer of direct action spoke to CityNews closer to noon, and said from what he could see -- it looked as if the region was keeping its word on not enforcing the eviction.

"We can see security officers walking up and down the street and police cars driving by but, we have not seen anyone come into the encampment, it seems like the region is holding it's word on today's physical eviction." 

Ahmed added if the region proceeds with its plan to involve the courts it is cause for concern but, him and other supporters remain undeterred in their resolve. 

"We are worried about what may happen in the courts but, at the same time we're not swayed by that into not showing up today." 

Also speaking to CityNews, Volunteer Organizer with Thursday's demonstration Joan Arrow shared her own experiences with homelessness, as she said that society has a responsibility to treat those impacted by unpredictable life events with the same dignity and respect that we would show to our own neighbours. Also showing her support at a rally in downtown Kitchener for those living in local encampments, Arrow said she believes it's time for residents to call on the region and local elected officials for a compassionate and permanent solution. 

"It's not practical, cost effective or compassionate to just keep moving these people from one place to another, and not giving them any alternatives," said Arrow. "We as a region (...) need to change the way that we treat these folks, and we can do that by providing housing-first solutions: giving these people the chance to get back on their feet and give our neighbours the opportunity to rejoin these communities... because it's nearly impossible to get out of this, especially with a city or region that seems to be out for blood." 

Arrow also raised concern with the supports being offered by the region to those encamped at Weber & Victoria, alleging that while officials may have an "on-paper version" of what's being provided, the level of support actually available is not what's being claimed. 

"When we talk to folks in the community who drive by this encampment everyday, everybody we talk to believes that this can't be the best idea the whole region can come up with. We've got a lot of smart people here," said Arrow. "I think that, the best case scenario would be realizing that... if we work together as opposed to against one another, because we all have the same goal ultimately, that we can come up with a solution that actually works, and actually lasts."

One local resident, Crystal, spoke to CityNews about the decision of her own sister to stay at the Weber & Victoria encampment, as she said the space has become its own community. 

"There's no judgment: and there's just ... you feel safe here," said Crystal. "Obviously, people butt heads and things aren't perfect, but they just feel, overall, safer and more comfortable - because they can have their own things and run on their own time." 

Another resident at Weber & Victoria, identified as Matthew, shared his perspective as to why he's chosen to live at the encampment as opposed to seeking shelter services. 

"We don't have rights in there - they want all the control. What's the point of living in shelters if we don't have a say, and they want all the control? It's just not fair. It's just very unethical, not right," said Matthew. "We're suffering the most right now; the homeless people ... and I think, everyone should have a place. A roof over their heads, food to eat, support ... and we're not getting much of that right now. It's really, like, half done - and that should stop."

Gru, a supporter of encampment residents and a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, told CityNews that despite a lack of action by the region in enforcing the eviction deadline he expects action will be taken eventually.

"Do I expect the region will eventually come in with police, bylaw, bulldozers absolutely, one hundred per cent, it's a matter of time." 

Gru added the removal of encampment residents can't be a the solution though and instead the focus should be on affordable housing. 

"The only solution to the homelessness crisis is affordable housing. Whether that comes from the region, the province or ideally [the federal government] let's start funding some actually affordable housing options across the country." 

When asked for his perspective on the region's response to the Weber & Victoria encampment, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic told CityNews 570 his position has always been that there needs to be a plan as to where those living in the area will be going. 

"We need to take a rights-based approach in terms of ensuring folks have housing, but also ensuring that the community is safe for everyone in the surrounding neighbourhoods," said Vrbanovic. "I think there's a balance there that needs to be had, but we can't be relocating people without having a plan in place in terms of where they're going to go."

-- with files from Germain Ma and Brent Cater


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