Tents from an encampment that began growing on private property approved for development in downtown Galt last month, migrated to the neighbouring parking lot at 150 Main St. last week as regional officials ramped up efforts to find shelter and support services for those that remain.
Five tents were seen there as recently as Tuesday morning, taking up a row of parking spaces along the cement wall separating the neighbouring property.
The neighbouring property is 55 Kerr St., the site of the original encampment. That location is private property that is set to be developed into two, 18-storey condominiums with 445 units. The owner had signed a trespass order with the Waterloo Regional Police Service, according to Ward 4 councillor and mayoral candidate Jan Liggett. The order aimed to have the encampment removed a week ago but it had expired before any action was taken.
Now the remaining campers have moved to public property, it has become a regional issue.
Waterloo region's commissioner of community services, Peter Sweeney, is continuing to monitor developments and understands the region's role in managing the situation.
“We are very concerned for the health and safety of the individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness at 150 Main St. and in the surrounding area,” Sweeney said in a statment to CambridgeToday.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that people on our property are safe. Sleeping in our parking lot is not.”
It’s a responsibility the region is taking seriously, as they’ve had social workers on site multiple times working with those in need.
Liggett told CambridgeToday last week that many in the surrounding neighbourhood have emailed or called about the issue, but there’s no simple solution said Sweeney while asking for patience from neighbouring residents and business owners.
“We know from our work across the region that individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness often have complex needs stemming from significant trauma, mental illness and addictions,” he said.
“All of this has been made much worse by the impacts of the pandemic and the housing crisis. Our professionally-trained outreach workers employ a trauma-informed approach while trying to make connections and build trust with those who are some of the most vulnerable in our community.”
It appears as though the region will continue to take a support-based approach, but those located at the encampment have been provided the option to go elsewhere. There are 245 spaces at seven region-funded shelters across Waterloo Region, plus additional motel overflow if shelters are full according to the region’s 10-year housing and homelessness plan published on their website.
The Bridges shelter, located at 26 Simcoe St. in Cambridge, has a capacity of 76 beds.
“Offers for shelter have been made,” Sweeney said.
“Our focus at this point in the process remains to connect people with services and to encourage them to accept safer housing options as quickly as possible.”