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Encampment at 150 Main St. 'permanently closed' by region

All residents of the encampment at 150 Main St. have been evicted and the site has been permanently closed, the region cites safety concerns as cause
The lot at 150 Main St. is completely empty after the region closed the unsanctioned encampment

After a very contentious year and several heated public meetings, the homeless encampment that lined the parking lot at 150 Main St. is officially gone and permanently closed. 

At its peak the camp was reported to hold over 50 individuals with dozens of tents and temporary structures erected in the lot. 

Peter Sweeney, commissioner of community services for the Region of Waterloo said, the move to close the encampment came as concerns from nearby residents and the business community reached an all-time high and the number of those living in the camp started to dwindle. 

The metal fencing that separated the camp from the rest of the parking lot still stands. Joe McGinty/CambridgeToday

"In the last six weeks or so, we have seen a gradual reduction in the number of people living there and individuals, on a case by case basis, left for different reasons," Sweeney said. "Some accepted offers of alternative shelter and we found ourselves in a place with with nobody else there and we made the decision to to clean it up and close the encampment." 

Sweeney said the region maintains the encampment was unsanctioned and unsafe since the day it was created and they have been trying to offer everyone space in the shelter system or alternative housing options. 

One of their main focal points was to balance the needs of those living near the camp, the un-sheltered population and those who chose to live inside the camp, he said.

"It is for the betterment of our community,"Sweeney said about the closure. "We heard loud and clear from people who live and work nearby about how disruptive it was and on many occasions how dangerous it was." 

Since the tents started popping up at 150 Main St. over a year ago, police have responded to occurrences at the property 259 times. 

WRPS communications manager Cherri Greeno, said that while this is a substantial number, not all calls may have been related to the camp itself. 

Cambridge councillor Adam Cooper said he is glad to see the camp gone and its residents offered safer, more appropriate, shelter.

He took to social media to thank the region and police for conducting the closure. 

"I'd like to send a big thank you to the Region of Waterloo and WRPS for listening and acting on our concerns and those of the residents of Cambridge, especially those that have had to live daily with the activities and dangers of the encampment at 150 Main St right at their doorstep," wrote Cooper. 

Region installs fence surrounding the encampment at 150 Main St. in Cambridge. Joe McGinty/CambridgeToday

Cooper, a longtime defender of the neighbouring residents, continuously lobbied the region to remove the encampment. 

In a statement sent to CambridgeToday, Cooper said he and the mayor made the region aware of significant safety and criminal issues at the camp over the last few months.

"Those issues, which included an assault with an axe and attempted forced entry into local homes significantly affected the safety and well-being of both the camp residents and the surrounding community," he said. "I would assume those incidents played a large part in their decision to clear this location."

Mayor Ligget was quick to add in a statement that "no member of Cambridge council had anything to do with the removal of the encampment at 150 Main, this was strictly the work of regional council and staff."

Cooper's social media post received many reactions and questions as to where the residents will end up now that 150 Main St. is off the table. 

"Did they move the encampment because of people's concerns for safety, or because they plan to build there?," questioned Carlie Sabatine. "If they were concerned for peoples safety they wouldn't just put them in someone else's neighbourhood. Same shit, different street." 

Now that the camp is off regional property, the city will be in control of what happens to any future sites and will be "easier to deal with," added Cooper in response.

The City of Cambridge said in a statement to CambridgeToday that they will continue to address any active camping on city property and work with property owners for camping on private property.

"The City also partners with WRPS when addressing active camping on areas where this is prohibited," wrote Allison Jones, communication manager for the City of Cambridge. 

Cambridge regional councillor, Doug Craig calls the closure, "a quiet movement to make the community safer and to provide people, with their permission, a safer option than 150 Main."

The former Cambridge mayor said the encampment at 150 Main was having a "very detrimental effect" on the surrounding community.

On the other hand, regional taxpayers are overwhelmed with the enormous cost of financing solutions to the crisis, he said. Despite this,"we have to start approaching people with safer options," Craig added.

The region will continue to work with their service partners and outreach workers to offer support and housing to un-housed individuals or those residing in camps. 

"The best approach we can take as a community is to come together," said Sweeney. "There is not one level of government who can tackle this and we are all needed to solve these issues. Kindness and compassion will help us get a long way." 

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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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