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Region of Waterloo will not immediately appeal encampment court decision, hints at future appeal if necessary

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The Region of Waterloo says it is not currently planning to appeal Justice M. Valente's decision that ruled it cannot evict those living at an encampment at the corner of Victoria and Weber Streets in Kitchener.

On Thursday, the region said in a news release it “will continue to focus on supporting those experiencing homelessness in the community.”

A statement from Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman emailed to CTV News on Thursday said the region will continue to work with outreach partners to voluntarily move people living at the encampment into shelter spaces, including the new hybrid shelter planned at Erbs Road.

“Should those efforts not be successful, regional council could apply back to Justice Valente to rescind the declaration at a future date,” Redman said.

In January, Valente struck down the region’s bid to seek an injunction to evict the residents of the encampment, which sits on municipally owned land.

“Our commitment to supporting those experiencing homelessness and living rough across the region is steadfast and concerns remain for the safety and wellbeing of those living in unsanctioned encampments,” Redman said in the statement emailed to CTV News. “At the Region of Waterloo, we are working on a number of fronts with community partners to address homelessness and to find meaningful, long-term solutions.”

The region pointed to $163 million in spending on housing and homelessness approved during the regional council budget on Wednesday.

The region said this will advance the interim housing strategy and lead to increased shelter capacity.

“The interim housing strategy is an important part of the region’s plan to help end chronic homelessness, with the opening of the first outdoor shelter at region-owned property on Erbs Road as an important step forward,” the region said. “When this shelter opens, it will provide a greater range of accessible options for individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Valente’s ruling handed down on Jan. 27 dismissed the region's bid for an injunction and declined to declare the homeless individuals living in the encampment in breach of a regional by-law.

The ruling noted that the region did not have adequate shelter spaces for its homeless population.

Valente also said evicting residents would violate their charter rights to life, liberty and security.

The ruling was called precedent-setting by legal experts and those who live in the encampment.

“It’s precedent-setting, so this is setting precedent across the city, across the province and across Canada, so I think it’s a huge victory," Colin, who lives at the encampment, told CTV News last month.

ENCAMPMENT LAWYERS RESPOND TO REGION'S DECISION

Shannon down, a lawyer with Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, said representing those living at the Victoria and Weber Streets encampment said she was really pleased with the region’s decision.

“We're really happy, we're relieved on behalf of our clients, some of the folks who are still living in tents at the encampment, who will obviously feel like this is a weight lifted off their shoulders,” said Down.

Adding: “This means that we can pour our energies, both the region can pour their energies and we can pour our energies into advocating and working on solutions for homelessness as opposed to battling it out in the court system.”

The makeshift tent community formed last year, peaking at more than 60 tents.

The region has been trying to clear the site to make way for a central transit hub.

In the summer, the region filed court papers to remove the encampment after many residents living in the encampment stayed past an eviction date set by the region.

“It certainly felt at times like we were up against a real uphill battle while the case was ongoing,” said Down.

If the region decides to go back to court, Down said that would be counterproductive from her point of view.

“I certainly hope that’s not what they choose to do. From my perspective that’s counterproductive,” Down said.

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