Region says high safety risk at Kitchener encampment, residents will have to move
The Region of Waterloo says there's a high safety risk at a Kitchener encampment and they are working with residents to prepare them for their eventual move.
The encampment is located at the corner of Victoria and Weber Street in downtown Kitchener.
According to regional councillor Elizabeth Clarke, the plan has always been to vacate the encampment before the Fall in order to make way for a transit project.
But that's changed due to recent incidents.
"It’s going to be sooner than that, things are too high risk," Clarke said. "The thing is that they're accelerating both in their number and in their severity. We had an assault with a weapon last week that involved somebody needing medical attention. We've had a fire in a tent, we've had a number of incidents of physical threats."
Clarke said outreach teams have visited the site several times to evaluate the risk level and work with residents to find new housing.
"At least give them the opportunity for other means of shelter before we take action," she said. "We really don't want to be in a position where we're pushing people out with no options at all."
The region is spending over $50,000 a month to keep the encampment as safe as possible, Clarke said. She feels it's an example of how the Region has been very accepting of the site, but if the encampment is broken up earlier than expected, she said it will be done to keep everyone safe.
"I just don't want the public to think that if we take an action that it will be because there are people there. If we take an action, it will be because of the risk to the people that are there, and the people around it, is just too great."
According to Clarke there are 24 encampments around the region.
Councillors are looking at options to create more official and permanent areas for the residents, but that’s a process that would need to be agreed on by every community in the region.
"It was discussed at a meeting yesterday," Clarke said. "We really have changed our views on encampments over the last number of years."
CTV News spoke to several people who live at the encampment who acknowledged that there have been physical altercations, but they say it's often petty issues on site and they don't want to cause problems for the surrounding community.
They also feel like there's nowhere else for them to go.
"People look at it, like: 'Oh, they're just on the system, they're using the system,'" said Ashley Harper. "No. Some of us deal with mental health. Yes, some of us deal with addiction, but we're not here by choice. Definitely not here by choice."
"This offers kind of a chance to maybe sit and ponder your thoughts and what to do about the housing situation," Evan Haney said.
According to Harper, she feels the encampment is safer than other options.
"Here I can actually watch myself and I have a place to call, you know, not home, but it's a roof over my head."
Clarke said there is no set time for when people will be asked to leave but the region is working with its partners daily to prepare for that eventuality.
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