Advocates claim City of Peterborough ‘evicting’ homeless at Wolfe Street tent encampment

Click to play video: 'People experiencing homelessness in Peterborough fear they will be evicted from Wolfe Street encampment'
People experiencing homelessness in Peterborough fear they will be evicted from Wolfe Street encampment
It’s an ongoing dispute on Wolfe Street in Peterborough. Dozens of people experiencing homelessness say they are now being asked to leave an encampment. But the city says otherwise. Tricia Mason has the latest.

Advocates for the homeless say the City of Peterborough is removing people from a tent encampment on Wolfe Street while the city calls it a coordinated effort to help them find shelter.

On Thursday, city police and social services outreach workers were at the tent encampment site across from the emergency overflow shelter. The city says staff over the past two weeks spoke with individuals tenting to offer them help to access shelter and housing services.

The city said police were encouraging the individuals to go to the overflow shelter to talk to social services. There were about two dozen tents on site on Thursday morning.

Read more: State of emergency declaration possible for homelessness crisis in Peterborough

As of Thursday the city said there were nine available shelter beds and 15 temporary alternative accommodations (motel spaces) that may be used “until a shelter bed becomes available.”

Brian Cook, a veteran living at the encampment, claims he was informed around 7 a.m. that the tents would be “ripped down.”

“I talked to social services and bottom line — there still isn’t room for these people,” he told Global News Peterborough. “You have buildings, churches and schools …there has to be something we can do. All these condos and apartment buildings going up, some of them should be used for the homeless. Get them going — or all the hotels that are empty.”

The city notes tenting is prohibited on city property (except at Beavermead Campground) and that bylaw enforcement staff have regularly informed tenters of the bylaw and have also provided information on how to connect with social services.

“Outreach workers were on site on Thursday to help people get to available shelter beds or temporary accommodations, based on their individual circumstances,” the city stated.

“This is an ongoing effort to connect people with available services.”

However, some advocates say Thursday’s effort amounted to “an eviction” for those living in tents.

Retired priest Father Leo Coughlin, 90, says he has a number of homeless friends and on Thursday said he was “mad as hell” by the city’s latest actions — or lack thereof.

Click to play video: 'Those experiencing homelessness in Peterborough “just trying to survive”'
Those experiencing homelessness in Peterborough “just trying to survive”

“I’ve never seen so much bull—- in the city as I’m seeing in Peterborough the last while,” he said. “Meetings upon meetings and I don’t see one person that has been housed.”

He criticized the city for years for failing to address the growing  issue of homelessness and a lack of future planning.

“The homeless need a place right now that’s warm and safe, that’s obvious,” he said. “So if it’s so obvious, why don’t we do it? If it was a great mystery of the universe I can see us standing around twiddling our thumbs, but when it’s so obvious — people living in the rough — it’s so damn obvious, why don’t we do it?”

“I don’t want them to take anything away — leave it there,” he added. “Act on a new vision.”

Advocates for the homeless in Peterborough include Dan Hennessey and Father Leo Coughlin. Harrison Perkins/Special to Global News Peterborough

Fellow activist Dan Hennessey says “evictions are not the answer,” estimating there have been about 50 people at the encampment.

“It’s all Peterborough does,” he said. “There’s no place for them to go — all that does is create stress for people. Shelters may be full, some don’t want to go do a shelter or may be banned from a shelter. Where do these powers that be expect these people to go? There’s nowhere for them to go.”

Read more: Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes unveils first of homeless sleeping cabins

Hennessey has also advocated for the use of tiny homes, for which he says some landowners have offered property to install and host them. However, the city has not approved the suggestion.

“It could be a lifesaver for some,” he said.

He says a key part is asking those experiencing homelessness what they require to get housed or remain housed.

“For too long the marginalized community has been ignored. They haven’t been asked for advice.

“They’re told ‘this is what you need.’ Not everybody believes in that. There needs to be more engagement with this demographic.”

Also at the scene on Thursday were new city councillors Joy Lachica and Alex Bierk who represent Town Ward.

Lachicha called it a “tremendously difficult” morning for the individuals impacted and she called on the city to take action.

“There’s nothing more important than making sure that we have a winter strategy,” Lachica said. “We’re lucky to have a reprieve from the bad winter weather. So now is the moment where we should be talking together and collaborating about what winter strategy is.”

Bierk echoed the sentiment, adding that dispersing the encampment is not a solution as individuals have “no \where to go.”

“There’s a real sense of community here — people are taking care of each other,” said Bierk. “By breaking that up, people are going to go into the periphery. That’s when we see things like people freezing to death, overdoses. It’s important to keep this encampment going.”

The city says there are 106 shelter beds and the city administers about 2,000 social housing units that are owned and managed by non-profit organizations and Peterborough Housing Corporation.

According to the city, in 2021, average of 266 people each month experienced homelessness.

“There were 251 shifts from homelessness to housing with 35 per cent of these shifts by people who had experienced chronic homelessness,” the city stated.

In one of her last official acts as mayor, Diane Therrien had the city declare a state of emergency on the worsening housing and homelessness crisis.

The Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes (PATH) is organizing a “Justice for the Homeless rally” on Saturday, Nov. 26, beginning at 1 p.m. at Confederation Park. Coughlin says he will be the first speaker at the event.

— with files from Tricia Mason/Global News Peterborough

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Peterborough homelessness advocates calling on more sustainable support

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