By: Rose Divecha
In my very first article for the North End Breezes in October 2017, I had pondered the municipal slogan proudly plastered on North End billboards at the time: “A child and family friendly community”. Since then, a lot has changed, including the billboards. Walking along Strachan Street now, one would be hard pressed in convincing children to come and play amongst the greenspace that has been taken over by tents and toilets, syringes and sewage. The city’s remedy? Tiny Shelters!
A meeting was supposed to be held on Monday, September 11th, 2023 at Bennetto Community Centre to discuss the wooden structures slated for installation at the corner of Strachan and John, but the huge community turnout had our city representatives cancelling the event, citing “health and safety concerns”. (Funny, I would argue the current encampment raises similar concerns). The vast majority of people who turned out to voice their opinions could not even enter the civic centre and were held back at the door by security personnel. Police were summoned and approximately 6-8 officers sheltered inside anticipating trouble. (Ironic considering Cameron Kroetsch based his election campaign largely on defunding the police.) A tiny shelter brought to the event on a trailer was quickly and quietly escorted off the premises. It was clear the promoters felt intimidated by the negative public response and requested a police escort.
Many of the people I spoke with that night expressed concern over biohazardous waste (feces, vomit, toxic drugs) and its disposal. Noise and garbage are also ongoing issues. Issues that will not be eliminated once wooden sheds are erected instead of tents.
Many community members have experienced verbal assaults while passing the encampment and fear for their safety and the safety of their children as drug use, sexual acts and various stages of undress are also common sights. But no one had the opportunity to express any of these concerns at the non-event; an event meant to elicit public input but ultimately unable to accommodate the public it was meant to appease; a meeting for the Ward 2 constituents, in a room that could only accommodate a small fraction of the Ward 2 constituents. The public’s input has not been requested to date.
Most attending the community meeting were not against providing shelters for the homeless but questioned the choice of location. These shelters would be directly across the street from houses; households with children and pets and the elderly and the infirm, households that pay taxes, households that our Mayor and Ward 2 city councilor have clearly not consulted. These are the households that voted for Andrea Horwath and Cameron Kroetsch who are now regretting their decisions.