Homeless camp in Victoria Park protests lack of reasonably priced housing

KITCHENER — A new tent city has been set up in Victoria Park, but it’s not an unfamiliar sight.

Activist Julian Ichim has organized a number of tent cities in Victoria Park over the years, dating back to at least 2003.

Now Ichim and a group of about 10 organizers have set up another tent city on Victoria Park’s Roos Island, to protest a lack of affordable housing in the region.

“It’s one thing if poverty is hidden in the backwoods in the forest; it’s another thing if it’s right in your face in Victoria Park,” he said.

“If poverty has to be here, then society has to recognize that, and we’re not going to go away silently.”

About 50 residents come and go to the site, said Ichim.

Ichim and other organizers handed out pamphlets to passersby which outlined a list of 13 demands campers are making to the City of Kitchener.

Demands include an end to encampment evictions from city- and region-owned land, the provision of low-income housing at 10 per cent of the average income and the creation of 1,000 new low-income units in downtown Kitchener.

People living in previous tent cities Ichim has been involved with have all been housed, and that’s what he hopes will happen again this time.

The group set up the tent city on Canada Day to highlight the irony of people celebrating when others are living on the street, said Ichim.

“How can a nation be great when it’s letting its own people starve to death?” he said.

Three banners hung on the park’s gazebo with “Housing Now! Tent City” in bold letters above the names of former tent city organizers who have died, most of them from overdosing on opiates, said Ichim.

The city is aware of the tent city and acknowledges it as an affordable housing demonstration.

Bylaw staff have visited the area and spoken with organizers “to ensure that all the rules of the park are being adhered to and that the area is kept clean during the demonstration,” said spokesperson Bethany Rowland.

Tent city residents also want the city to formally rename Victoria Park to Willow River Park and to remove all colonial statues from the region, starting with the statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Park, which has been a focal point for criticism.

The city did not say whether it would enforce a bylaw that prohibits people from setting up shelters for personal use in a city park.

Ichim has organized tent cities going back decades. He said the tent city in Victoria Park is more than a protest.

“It’s a protest, but it’s something tangible,” he said.

“We’re giving people a safe place to sleep.”

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