‘I misplaced $1,500 of tenting gear’: Houseless encampment in Brampton raided

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Behind Kingspoint Plaza, a concrete barrier separates the shops and their employees from the secluded compound where homeless Bramptoners have made their own homes, but not without opposition from the city. Residents of this makeshift community say their tents were slashed and food and clothing confiscated to force them out of the space.

For the past two weeks, members of the homeless community have been protesting outside City Hall, urging the city to leave the site alone following a raid in late August.

“They threw everything in the trash. I didn’t lose far from $1,500 in camping gear,” said Oliver Pourchelle, one of the residents who joined the protests.

“All my clothes too, they left nothing behind.”

Chris Goodman has lived off and on behind the pitch for over seven years.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peel Region’s strategy was to house residents in hotels. The province invested aid money for social services to acquire motel and hotel space to support physical distancing so shelter residents aren’t forced into cramped quarters, putting their health at risk. With the additional funds, more shelter staff were hired, personal protective equipment (PPE) was purchased along with cleaning supplies; At the same time, rent subsidy for people in precarious housing conditions has been increased and more funds have been invested in grant and loan programs to prevent more people from becoming homeless.

In May that funding ran out, causing many formerly housed residents to take to the streets and some to be sent to Calvert Park behind the plaza, less than a kilometer north of the city centre.

At 8:00 am on August 31, Paladin Security, led by the City of Brampton, arrived at the site following a trespassing notice issued the previous day.

As a rainstorm had passed hours earlier, many of the site’s residents had pitched their tents to shelter from the weather.

One of the inmates, George Toth, said he had 10 minutes to evacuate what he could. What he could not carry was lost when residents’ belongings were loaded into a truck. Included was about half of Toth’s clothing.

Toth receives $334.33 a month through Ontario Works to cover his food, shelter and other necessities.

“They tore down my tent, they tore down my mate’s tent, and then towards the end of the block, there, they tore down all the tents, and now that things have calmed down a bit, people started to put up their tents again set up or buy new tents, and now, since yesterday, they have three days in advance to take them down again.”

Paladin Security issued a notice on August 31 barring residents entry.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

On September 11, Toth said police had returned and issued written notices explaining residents had until Wednesday to move or their belongings would be confiscated again.

When Wednesday came, however, there was no raid.

The atmosphere was surprisingly upbeat as about half a dozen inmates drank beers and chatted with friends, some homeless, some not, expecting Paladin Security to arrive at any moment.

As the media was present, only two security guards came on site in the afternoon and surveyed the area before approaching the site. The guards reprimanded the inmates for open alcohol and asked them to leave before the uniformed men left themselves after the inmates refused.

Paladin Security arrives at the small camp on Wednesday.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

In a statement to The Pointer, Paladin denied any property was damaged and said the Aug. 31 raid was part of a joint effort with the City of Brampton, Peel Regional Police and Peel Outreach to move people from the camps to emergency shelters to relocate in the area.

“The operation was carried out professionally and with care by everyone involved. As a security provider to the city, Paladin is required to patrol these areas to ensure the city property is a safe environment for all and has fulfilled its duty to report the camps to the police,” said Blair Davenport, executive vice president of Paladin, into a statement.

“Peel Regional Police handled the relocation of inmates and security forces stood ready to assist. Residents were given advance notice to dismantle the camps and Peel Outreach was involved in attempting to relocate people to emergency shelters in the area. There were no reports of property damage or confiscation.”

The reasons why camp residents do not go to emergency shelters vary. Some cited security concerns, others lack of space. A resident told paramedics how he woke up during the night and found the body of the man who overdosed during the night next to him. He has not returned to an animal shelter since then.

Residents said the square at Kingspoint Plaza is used as a camp because of its remoteness – the large concrete barrier offers some privacy and a sense of protection.

“We’re not building a rocket here,” Toth said.

“Realistically, what do you expect from someone? Okay, I live in a tent, now I have to pack up all my shit and then what? [Hide] until they find you again? What is the purpose of this?”

Living conditions behind Kingspoint Plaza.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

Seniors Dave and Wendy have been living on the street since May. Although Wendy relies on a walker, the two avoid the raids by being mobile.

When the notices are issued by the city, the couple will move to Kingspoint Plaza, across the barrier. Then, after the raid, they retreat. They said getting up meant the couple didn’t lose their few belongings, which they keep in a cart.

“Where do you think we’re going,” Dave said. “Just create a place where everyone can go, somewhere where people can put their tents. They bring their tents, keep them clean, just leave them alone.”

He added that accommodation for the couple has been arranged for October 1 and they have decided to remain in the camp until then, as a bridge between more permanent accommodation while they find themselves in a precarious situation.

Another resident, Kyle DeShanes, said he moved to a shelter during the August raid so he couldn’t take belongings, but watched the truck drive away with other people’s belongings.

“I came from another part of town where I had built a cabin. So I just got back here. It wasn’t really raining that much at the time.”

Some residents argued that the city’s actions violate the United Nations’ right to decent housing, which stipulates that all countries must house residents in one place without fear of eviction or expropriation of their home or land.

As of September 16, 750 people were housed in Peel-run shelters, while about 200 people are overcrowded, according to Daphna Nussbaum, coordinator of the Peel Alliance to End Homelessness.

“It’s really tough, it’s tough because we don’t have a housing stock,” Nussbaum said.

“All the accommodations are at capacity, this has been the case for quite some time, because the provincial government stopped funding the pitches made available to the camps in May, leaving no further funding for them to stay in hotels or motels .”

In a report released in July 2021, the organization found that absent additional targeted investment in housing for people living with chronic homelessness, Peel’s rates of chronic homelessness were likely to increase.

“Based on current chronic homelessness entry and exit rates, Peel will see an approximately 25 percent increase in chronic homelessness over the next year. It is estimated that to reduce chronic homelessness by 15 percent, Peel’s average moving rate would need to increase to at least 7 moves per month,” the report said. “Currently, the average is 4 moves in per month.”

The seriousness of the situation, which can be seen from the numbers, was raised again during a presentation to Peel Regional Council in 2021, which found that just two per cent of people suffering from chronic homelessness in Peel accommodated, compared to 37 percent in Toronto.

Nussbaum said the Alliance is currently working in partnership with the Peel region on a project called Coordinated Access, which intends to use a centralized information system to track entry into homelessness and those who then find shelter .

“There’s a list called the ‘last name’ list, and it’s sort of a real-time list to list all the people who are going into the homelessness, are in the homelessness, or are coming out of the homeless. Updated monthly, it is designed to connect people to accommodation and services based on their needs, not where they sit in chronological order on another accommodation waiting list.”

The coordinated access system is scheduled to go into operation in 2023.

“People need to understand that the cost of living is rising and all the problems that come with COVID have made it particularly difficult for homeless people to find housing. People need to know that they need to push more for extremely affordable housing, not just affordable housing in Peel.”

Nussbaum said COVID-19 is a “wake-up call” for many people, showing the urgency of adequately funding affordable housing.

“We have local elections ahead of us and there is a lot to consider when it comes to homelessness and housing. Not only that, welfare and justice. People really need to start paying attention to what their local governments are doing or who their candidates are… I would say advocacy is really, really important. Endorse your City Council, Endorse your MP, Endorse your MPP. I also think people probably need to be educated [about] why people end up in shelters or on the streets.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @JessicaRDurling

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