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People cleared out of Milligan's Pond, but where to next?

Police say evictions were peaceful and people were respectful; Social services organizations say situation highlights need for more affordable housing in Barrie

City police and municipal law enforcement officers attended Milligan’s Pond today to clear people and their belongings out of the wooded area where they've been living.

Some people had already begun packing and others were waiting for police to tell them to go after the city began enforcing an emergency order on Thursday.

Gilbert Centre representative Sarah Tilley was on hand for the evictions. The organization's harm reduction co-ordinator told BarrieToday she and her team are in Milligan’s Pond and other encampments around the city daily from Monday to Friday.

“There are so many issues that people are experiencing right now, but I think the biggest that we get requests for are about affordable housing or accessible housing,” Tilley said. “There are actually quite a few units that are on the market, but for people who are on financial subsidies, they just aren’t feasible or attainable.”

On May 28, Mayor Jeff Lehman added an amendment to an emergency order that would allow people to camp overnight at the wooded area, located near Anne and Dunlop streets, for up to 15 days, rather than the current 24 hours after a warning.

Tilley said there are usually more people in the park than there have been the last couple days, but pointed to recent attention for some folks leaving ahead of time.

“Before all of the media focus and police presence, there were maybe 20 to 30 people staying here a night,” Tilley said. “Since then, some people have moved along and have attempted to find places that aren’t as visible to both the public and to the police.”

Barrie police Insp. Rob Burke said the day went without incident and everyone was respectful.

“Today, the Barrie police supported the City of Barrie byaw department and other community agencies at Milligan’s Pond. There were no issues. The matter was peaceful and the campers were very respectful of the process that was undertaken,” Burke said in an email to BarrieToday.

But where do people who were living at Milligan's Pond go now?

“Some of the people have been here for a long time and have called this place their home for months and more,” Tilley said. “There is a real shortage of places to go right now, so it will be a challenge as to where they go.

"Packing up their things constantly is a terrible way to live.”

A statement from the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness (SCATEH) said the encampments around the city and Simcoe County are a survival response. The organization says the root cause is inadequate affordable-housing options, as people spend months, or even years, on waiting lists.

“Rather than evicting encampments and criminalizing homelessness, we would like to see a focus on creating low-barrier, affordable-housing options," SCATEH wrote in its statement. "With the right options to match the needs of those living in encampments, evictions could be avoided altogether. We invite anyone concerned with the encampments to work with us to provide meaningful housing options to meet this need.”

Dave, who is a resident of the areas known as 'tent cities', told BarrieToday he packed up on Wednesday, but was hoping the matter would be ignored.

“I was kind of hoping they wouldn’t bother. Maybe just forget about coming in, but they’re here,” he said. “No matter to me, my stuff is on the outer part of the park and I’m heading over to another forest.

"I’ll keep setting up camp, they’ll keep kicking me out," Dave added. "We’ll go round and around until the problem gets fixed, I guess.”



Shawn Gibson

About the Author: Shawn Gibson

Shawn Gibson is a staff writer based in Barrie
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