Region of Waterloo does not have shelter beds to accommodate residents in the event of eviction, lawyer claims

On the second day of the encampment eviction hearing, Shannon Down, who represents some of the encampment residents on behalf of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, argued that if she is evicted, the region has no residential beds to accommodate residents, subsequently infringing their rights under the Charter.

The homeless encampment at 100 Victoria Street in Kitchener, Ontario, was established just before the new year, but has grown in size since March 2022.

On Monday, James Bennett, the area’s solicitor, said there were currently 476 beds available for homeless people with 70 more on the way.

Although there are around 1,100 people in the area experiencing homelessness, Bennett said there is always a surplus of beds, meeting demand, as many homeless people are not interested in staying. in shelters.

However, Down said they can’t look at available beds alone, they have to look at the demographic breakdown of those beds since some shelters are exclusively for women, men, or children, and not all accept couples or people with pets. .

The implication, Down said, is that homeless people are not guaranteed to get a bed even if it appears free beds are available, as they may not be eligible to access beds in some shelters. . The exact breakdown of free beds by demographic group was not available.

The encampment at the corner of Victoria Street and Weber Street in downtown Kitchener pictured Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Alleged Charter Violation

Ashley Schuitema, also of Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, argued that beds also need to be accessible and “low barrier”. Barriers, she said, could include things like addiction in abstinence-only shelters, mental health or transportation.

In the absence of safe, effective and accessible shelters, it has been suggested that deportation would amount to a violation of Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which deals with the “right to life, liberty and to the safety of the person”.

Bennett argued on Monday that Residents’ Charter rights would not be violated if residents of the encampment were evicted since the area offered other shelter options, while Down and Schuitema believe the options are not there. .

Schuitema also argued that evictions from encampments can lead to things like starvation, sexual violence, loss of survival assets and could lead to dangerous drug use.

Motel rooms as refuge

Bennett also said Monday that if shelter beds run out in the area, those in need can access motel rooms instead, but Down argued that’s not always the case.

“Motel space is not unlimited,” Down said.

It has also been argued that the region’s encampment policy, which was established last year, has not been enforced.

Earlier in July, the region filed an application with the Superior Court of Justice to begin evicting people from the encampment. The region alleges that the people living at the camp are in violation of Ontario’s Municipal Act. The region previously gave occupants a deadline of June 30 to vacate the property.

The hearing continued Tuesday at the Waterloo Region Courthouse (Radio-Canada News)

Models of outdoor shelters considered

The region is currently working with community partners to operate outdoor shelters and working with local municipalities to find ideal sites.

The region’s draft plan recommends options such as a sanctioned, managed or hybrid approach to encampments. Other recommendations include expanding the region’s transitional housing program, home support programs and emergency shelter program.

The hearing is scheduled to continue next week.

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