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City, CP rail pause eviction of Soper Park encampment

'Where is your humanity, City of Cambridge?,' say advocates as they rush to help move encampment residents before bulldozers roll in and tear down makeshift shelters

EDITORS NOTE: A previous version of this story mentioned that the City of Cambridge worked in conjunction with Canadian Pacific Kansas City Rail to bring in a bulldozer to remove shelters. The City of Cambridge confirmed that they used city contractors to manually clean up their portion of the site. 

Waterloo regional police and about 30 social workers were in Soper Park this morning assisting the planned eviction of about 50 residents of an encampment near the Elgin Street pedestrian tunnel at the north end of the park.

Since the encampment is on shared property with Canadian Pacific railway and the City of Cambridge, the company decided to give residents until midnight tonight to clear out instead of an earlier deadline of this morning. 

"It looks like nearly every social worker in the region is here right now trying to move these people out before the city bulldozes all their stuff and they lose everything," said advocate for the unhoused Regan Brusse.

"We get to go home to our beds tonight. They have no idea where they are going to go."

Canadian Pacific Kansas City Rail brought in a bulldozer to remove what remained of the encampment after residents left, but paused those efforts when they learned about the extent of the makeshift shelters, which stretch into a wooded area beside the trail.

The plan is to return tomorrow at 8 a.m.

According to Allison Jones, communications for the City of Cambridge, the city used contractors to manually clean up their portion of the site. 

A social worker who identified herself as Ashley, told CambridgeToday they have until midnight to help pack up every last tent, shelter and belonging in a U-Hual and move it away. 

"So they have decided that the people living here are not human and don't have rights and have also decided that social workers are not human either," Ashley said.

"We now have to work for the next 12 hours straight to move everyone away. Why can't they give us until tomorrow morning? Who decided midnight?"

The social workers who are going to have to put in long hours and help move the residents, feel like they are "weaponizing compassion." 

"They are doing this because they know we'll work until we drop to help these people," she added. 

Social workers and advocacy groups are helping pack up every belonging into plastic tubs and bring them to vans, trucks and U-Haul trailers to move them to the next spot. 

"What we're watching here today is peoples' family being broken apart, their homes being destroyed, their world being demolished and I'm sorry, I don't give a shit about no law," Brusse said.

"There is no justification for this, this is not a situation where these people have another option."

Some people have been living in the park for months, but since the closure of the encampment at 150 Main St. the size of the Soper Park encampment has tripled to an estimated 50 residents. 

City of Cambridge bylaw compliance manager John Mattocks was on scene during the eviction and says residents have been informed for a few weeks that they will be charged or arrested for violating city bylaws and have been offered other housing options. 

The eviction notice, posted by the city last week, also informed those living in the park that if they didn't leave, they would be charged by police. 

Brusse says the housing options that were offered are not sufficient enough for the region to evict those living at the Victoria encampment in Kitchener, and it's not enough for the residents here. 

"When you look at the numbers that were presented to regional council on Sept. 12, it said shelter beds in the region were at an 83 per cent capacity. They couldn't even fit everyone in the open beds if they tried," Brusse says. 

In the report presented to regional council, it concluded that there are over 1,377 people experiencing chronic homelessness in the region, a statistic that paints a very small picture of the reality of the unhoused. 

"These reports are only as accurate as the information that can be collected," Brusse says. "There are hundreds more unhoused, from the hidden homeless to students, who don't have a place to live. We need to do something now and bulldozing people's entire lives will not accomplish anything." 

Many of the advocates helping residents move think this eviction goes in direct violation of the Superior Court's decision preventing the Region of Waterloo from evicting residents at an encampment in Kitchener. 

Ontario Superior Court Justice, Micheal Valente said any effort to evict an encampment on Victoria and Weber streets in Kitchener would be a violation of of rights and freedoms granted in the Charter.

He based his decision on the idea that the region is currently unable to provide accessible and adequate shelter options and supports for those residents and must leave them alone.

"We are dealing with the same numbers that were presented to the judge here in Cambridge. Same number of shelter beds, same number of support and social workers available. This isn't right," Brusse adds. "Where is your humanity City of Cambridge, because this is not humane?" 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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