Following the eviction of homeless campers from Victoria Park on Tuesday morning, a Peterborough city councillor is asking social activists in the community to help municipal officials find solutions.
Coun. Stephen Wright says conversations with community activists need to happen in order to find solid ways to address the city’s homelessness issues.
“We get to a table, we sit down and we work out realistic, workable, tangible solutions on how to move forward,” said Wright.
Wright referenced a community meeting on housing and homelessness that was held on Aug. 13 at a local library. He says that, unfortunately, not much was accomplished at the meeting.
“It was supposed to be a solutions meeting, he said. “It became a very hostile environment for the mayor and for those who were there, and I get sometimes it’s necessary to vent, however it was supposed to be a meeting to provide solutions.”
Some solutions include the possibility of building tiny homes, but Wright says a developer has yet to come forward.
“I’ve heard a great deal of discussion around tiny homes as part as one of the solutions, yet there’s been no development application brought forward by any developer to city council to say: ‘Here’s a plan and here’s a development on tiny homes,'” said Wright.
Nonetheless, Wright said there is a sense of urgency in the community and that he is willing to work hard to find solutions.
“I’m putting this challenge out to social activists like Rachelle Sauve. I’m putting this out as a challenge to her. Get to the table — we’re ready, we’re willing to listen, we’re willing to work with solutions that get and address this problem,” said Wright.
Global News reached out to Sauve, a local community organizer, for a response to Wright’s request. She said she is willing to sit at the table with city officials if there are seats available for the homeless to voice their concerns as well.
Sauve added that she is concerned the voices of those most impacted aren’t going to be heard.
“I commend the city for recognizing that they need to bring people in who are working at the grassroots level, but I’m also dismayed by, for instance, the city’s refusal to talk to the people who were working at the Warming Room, people who have been working at the front line. It’s a little late in the game,” said Sauve.
The Warming Room was a local homeless shelter that closed at the end of June after its lease expired, prompting those who relied on the shelter to begin camping on city property. The Murray Street Baptist Church, which housed the shelter, said the church had infrastructure projects that could no longer be put off and that the shelter space was required.
“Unfortunately, I wish that, months ago, there had been this idea to come forward from the city to say: ‘Who are all the community partners?’ Including people with lived experience and front-line workers and folks like me and other advocates,” said Sauve.
The majority of the Victoria Park campers have now migrated a block away from the public space and are camping on Emmanuel United Church property. As a result of this move, Coun. Henry Clarke told Global News the issue of the campers is now out of the city’s hands.
“As far as I know, they’re in the hands of the church there because that’s on private property,” said Clarke.
Peterborough County Warden J. Murray Jones said the county worked with the city to establish a bylaw. However, the bylaw is now enforced by the city.
“It’s in their hands how the enforcement goes along, and I got to say I’m very impressed with co-operation we’ve received in the last couple of days from the residents of what they call ‘Tent City.’ I think they’ve done the responsible thing,” said Jones.
In light of the recent developments at Victoria Park, Global News reached out to elected officials in Peterborough to find out what will happen next. Wright and Clarke were the only two city councillors who agreed to interview requests.
City staff confirmed to Global News that Mayor Diane Therrien is currently on vacation. Councillors Lesley Parnell, Kim Zippel, Kemi Akapo and Andrew Beamer declined interviews with Global News, while the remaining city councillors did not respond to interview requests by deadline.
— With a file from Greg Davis and Noor Ibrahim