Niagara examining implications of precedent-setting encampment ruling

Niagara examining implications of precedent-setting encampment ruling

Cathy Cousins, director of Niagara-area homeless services, says a Supreme Court ruling regarding a camp in Kitchener could have repercussions here, although the area doesn’t clear homeless camps until they’re either abandoned or shelters are found for those who live there.

“We are still unpacking the implications and I need to have discussions with my regional attorneys and we also need to have discussions with the local community legal teams as many of the parks are owned by the local communities so we need to work in partnership to understand what that means,” Cousins ​​said, adding that similar conversations are taking place in communities in the provinces.

Local communities have cleared camps, including St. Catharines, which spent $283,000 on its response in 2021.

The court ruling was issued Friday by Judge Michael Valente, who denied the Waterloo area’s request to use its trespassing law to evict a homeless camp in Kitchener, home to about 50 people, due to a lack of adequate housing in that area.

The Toronto Star reported that the decision builds on cases in British Columbia that also found removal of camps to violate charter rights, under Section 7.

In Niagara, however, Cousins ​​said the strategy is to work with local communities, the Niagara Regional Police Department, Positive Living Niagara and Niagara Assertive Street Outreach team members and other partners and meet weekly to assess local camps , “and to understand who is there, what are their problems, and should we clean them up.”

“If it’s abandoned, we’ll definitely clean it up,” Cousins ​​said.

While camps that could cause problems in the community are usually cleaned up as well, she said well before any dismantling efforts begin, there are outreach teams at the sites regularly working with people to find them housing or to place them in emergency shelters bring.

As a result of that effort, rather than just offering housing to someone who may have had “housing trauma” and doesn’t want to go there, Cousins ​​said a third of the people that members of the outreach team work with are transferred directly to a housing facility.

“There are some things that I think we’re in a pretty good position to do here in Niagara.”

A small camp on Gale Crescent in St. Catharines was dismantled by the city several times, only to resurface days later. A city ordinance prohibits people from pitching tents in parks, setting fires, loitering, leaving trash, or visiting parks after 11 p.m. without permission

Cousins ​​said Valente addressed several other issues in his decision that could potentially have a greater impact on the homeless services offered in Niagara.

Cousin said the ruling addressed issues such as shelters for unmarried couples, which in some cases can be separated into shelters for men and women, and the importance of “low barrier” shelters – citing facilities that allow drug users to stay there stay .

Although Niagara has some shelters for people under the circumstances, she said she was unsure if those shelters would meet the requirements of the judge’s decision.

Cousins ​​is also concerned about the focus on shelters in the court’s decision.

“If this means we have to make investments to address the camps in the future, then where is the money coming from?” asked Cousins. “I do not have it.”

She said improved provincial funding for homeless services during the pandemic ended Dec. 31.

Cousins ​​hopes to present a report on the legislation’s impact on local communities at the region’s Public Health and Community Services Committee meeting on February 14 – if she can gather enough information on the issues by then.

City of St. Catharines officials are also developing a report on the potential impact the ruling could have on the city’s efforts.

Merritton County. Greg Miller said he requested the report during Monday’s city council meeting to see if it would affect the city’s involvement in camp clearances and the use of contractors to clear camps.

“Again, we’re out of shelters,” he said, adding he volunteered at some shelters over the Christmas period, “and it was over capacity.”

“It certainly seems to me that this will have multiple implications, and hopefully it will accelerate discussion of how to provide more shelters, emergency beds and transitional housing in St. Catharines and Niagara,” he said.

Cousins ​​said the Superior Court ruling did not apply to privately owned properties.

“It’s important for the wider community to understand that their right to stay out hasn’t changed,” she said.

In addition to parks and municipal property in Niagara, there were several camps on Ontario Power Generation’s property in St. Catharines.

Although Cousins ​​said it was up to the region’s legal team to determine the status of these camps, she said “the spirit of the judgment would say it was public land.”

“There’s definitely going to have to be an interpretation of what is public land for this purpose,” she said.


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