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'The fact that they're debating this means it's possible': Region tables plan to provide toilet access to encampment residents

Community advocates and residents have been criticizing the region for weeks for not providing toilet access to people living at the Weber and Victoria encampment in Kitchener
Laura Mae Lindo
Courtesy of Twitter @LauraMaeLindo.

There have been calls for weeks for the region to provide toilets to people living at the large encampment at the corner of Weber and Victoria streets.

A response is expected to come at a regional council meeting Wednesday night, with a plan for 24-hour washroom access on the table.

Regional staff are recommending the region partner with The Working Centre, a social services organization. 

Staff want the region to hire two security guards around the clock at St. John's Kitchen, which is across the street from the encampment, so that anyone experiencing homelessness, including those at the Weber and Victoria encampment, are able to access washrooms there 24/7. 

They estimate that along with cleaning and other incidental fees, this would cost $34,000 per month.

Over the weekend, Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo joined community advocates and residents who were asking the region to provide portable toilets.

She shared a letter on social media addressing Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Regional Chair Karen Redman. 

"What prompted me to write the letter was that oftentimes, when we're dealing with big problems like a housing crisis, we spend so much time looking at how big the problem is, that we forget that there are things that we can do to start to make a change and support our community members," Lindo said. 

In the letter, the MPP wrote that the region is weighing concerns that providing toilets would signal a "permanent solution" against temporarily sparing community members of ongoing inhumane treatment.

She said, "What I'm hearing on the ground, most important, is that for the most part, the fact that they're debating this means that it's possible to bring the Porta Potties in. The debate is around the logistics to do that."

But, the MPP who represents the riding where the encampment is located, is also criticizing the Ford government for focusing on the upcoming election, instead of helping the housing crisis. 

As of Tuesday morning, Lindo has not received a reply from Redman or Vrbanovic, but wants to be able to bring a response to the Premier to "make sure that the provincial government can feel the extent of the crisis, and is fighting for supportive and affordable housing units in the region."

Lindo said, "If we don't start working across these jurisdictional boundaries, we will only see more encampments, and more of the public outcry, and more of our neighbours that are struggling in the midst of this housing crisis."

But, the decision expected from regional council tonight may only provide a temporary set up.

Encampment residents are expected to move as construction for King and Victoria Transit Hub nearby could begin as soon as the fall.

The region is planning to use 100 Victoria Street, where the encampment currently sits to oversee the development of this station for several years.

Lynsey Slupeiks, manager of coporate communites at the region said in an email:

"In the interim, we will continue to focus on how we can support people experiencing unsheltered homelessness across our community. We are working towards solutions that balance the needs of the all residents, including people in the encampment. Our first and immediate priority is to assist individuals to access safer, sustainable and healthier alternatives. "

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