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LETTER: Tent city is a disaster in the making

By allowing people to set up temporary shelters we are going to double, then triple, the number of people living on the streets.

To the editor, 

Could someone explain to me why it’s a good idea for people, who are severely addicted, traumatized, mentally ill, to live outside in temporary shelters with no supervision or accountability? Tell me how this strategy gives people a better life? You have just created a very toxic, dangerous environment, under the guise of helping people.

Look at examples from Vancouver, Toronto, Hamilton, Seattle, Portland or any city which has a history of homeless encampments, and you will see disastrous results. All the statistics concerning overdoses, assaults, deaths, robberies, etc., go up dramatically when encampments are built and expanded. We are encouraging these encampments by providing tents, blankets, food, etc. Our permanent shelters and organizations already provide all those services. For example, in the south core alone, we have over 33 social agencies providing every kind of supportive services possible for the homeless. There is no need for temporary shelters, as this winter has shown us.

There is room in our shelters to accommodate everyone. When these shelters are full, District Social Services will provide rooms in motels, hotels or other places. This is what we should be promoting, not tent cities.

By allowing people to set up temporary shelters we are going to double, then triple, the number of people living on the streets. It has happened elsewhere and will happen here. Word among the homeless in other cities and communities is already spreading for people to come to Thunder Bay.

I watched the city council meeting on Monday, April 22 expecting to see the drug strategy director present an action plan to address the issues of homelessness. I expected the report was going to present location options, as well as bylaws with minimum distances for temporary shelters to be located, from homes, businesses, schools etc. To my dismay, none of those actions were brought forward.

Results of the public survey regarding the location of the temporary shelters were presented, but I question why a public survey was done in the first place?

This issue should have been handled by our city staff. They know where the public land is located and best locations to house people. I believe in public input, but not if the public does not have all the information.

As for the bylaws, it is very easy to research what other cities have adopted to minimize the impact of the homeless on the public. Having bylaws that keep these temporary structures at least 100/200/300 feet away from homes, schools, playgrounds, business should have been a priority.

There were several councillors who were visibly upset that this report contained no actions, even though they had repeatedly asked for this information. A report will now come back in June with recommendations. However, timeline for the recommendations to be implemented is going to be challenging based on what I witnessed at that council meeting.

I also found it disturbing that we are looking at this situation from a human rights lens as opposed to a compassionate lens. More than once the director mentioned it was councils’ decision to adopt a human rights lens. What was not mentioned was this option was brought to council by administration.

This human rights lens would allow the homeless to legally live in temporary structures. However, council can decide where they can set up, and more importantly, where they can’t.  

If we are going to continue with the human rights approach instead of a compassionate approach, then a proper location away from schools, businesses, homes should be designated for the homeless. Security, washrooms, garbage cans are priorities. People who live there should then be put on the list for housing.

Once they are called upon to get into housing they must accept the accommodation. If they refuse the housing, their tent would be removed and not allowed to set up anywhere in the city. They would then be relocated to one of our permanent shelters. We can only do so much for people. If they don’t want to help themselves, that is their choice, not ours.

We are a caring city who wants to help everyone who needs help. We don’t want to be a city which enables people to continue down the path of self destruction. We need people who are in need, to also behave in a respectful, law-abiding manner just like the rest of society.  

There are about 150 people who want to live on the streets in the summer. Maybe six live on the streets in the winter. There are 109,000 people that live in permanent housing.

We spend millions upon millions of dollars to help those who need it. In return we expect safety, rule and order, and respect to work both ways.

Carpe diem.


Aldo Ruberto

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