A tent city erected on a private property on Mill Street was cleaned up and its residents offered access to social services on Sept. 14. According to Mayor Paul Jenkins, the Town of Bancroft, other community agencies including support workers and the Bancroft OPP were at this location to clean up the site and try to negate any health and safety risks to the residents of the site and neighbouring properties. Jenkins speaks at length about the town’s rationale in pursuing the cleanup of the Mill Street site, a sign of the growing homelessness epidemic that Bancroft and other cities and towns across Canada are facing.
Jenkins confirmed the cleanup operation at the Mill Street tent city to The Bancroft Times on Sept. 14. He said it was not a surprise to the property owner, as the town has spoken to them many times about cleaning the site up, that it was a potential health and safety risk and about other issues like noise complaints the town has gotten from surrounding property owners.
“So, it came to a point where a team was assembled; regular Ontario Provincial Police, a special liaison unit of the OPP, social workers, a contracted team to go in and clean up the site, Town of
Bancroft bylaw enforcement, public works, fire department, building department, Hastings County Social Services and Hastings Prince Edward Public Health. What happened today is they went in and basically removed a lot of the refuse from the site. Nobody was evicted from the site. We went in as an initial step to get that cleaned up,” he says.
Jenkins clarifies that as far as he knows, nobody was evicted, as that was not the intent of the cleanup. However, he said there may have been incidents with potentially unhappy residents, including the owner’s son, who is the main resident, which may have required police action, but he did not know at that point.
Acting Sargeant Erin Cranton, the OPP’s East Region Media Relations Coordinator, did confirm to The Bancroft Times that the Bancroft OPP were in the area, working with other community agencies.
“There are no public safety risks and nothing further to advise of at this time,” she says.
Homelessness is an enormous problem, not only in Bancroft, but across the country. A myriad of factors contributes to this epidemic, including; poverty, deteriorating mental health, emotional or physical abuse, lack of employment, severe family conflicts, being part of a marginalized community and physical disabilities. As well, a lack of affordable housing, transitional housing and shelters here in Bancroft, many people have had no alternative but to find other ways to find and keep shelter. Therefore,
it’s not just one root cause of homelessness, but it’s a multi-faceted and complex issue; anyone can become homeless, and many are just one paycheque away from having to deal with it. One of these alternate shelters is the tent city that was erected on a private property on Mill Street, which is owned by one of the tent city residents.
The Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness Ontario defines homelessness as a lack of a safe and secure place to call one’s own, or the situation of a person or family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it.
Homelessness has always been a serious issue, but the last two plus years with COVID-19, its restrictions and the financial difficulties they’ve wrought exacerbated the situation, meaning that homelessness numbers are likely higher now than they were in 2016.
Wilma Brethour is the co-founder of Bancroft Housing First, a collective of community members with a vested interest in finding solutions to the homelessness crisis in Bancroft that will benefit all of North Hastings.
“As you are probably aware, we have a severe affordable housing shortage in our area. The Hastings County enumeration of the homeless last November found we had 49 homeless and precariously housed individuals in North Hastings. Without support and movement from all levels on government, the situation will only continue to worsen. We did an unofficial enumeration in 2020 and found 39 individuals. That has increased by 25 per cent in about 18 months. That is a huge increase in a very short period of time. We need the community and politicians to engage together to find solutions. We are a rich country and what is happening to our people is not a story that should be about Canadians in Canada. Housing needs to be an issue for every municipal candidate running in North Hastings,” she says.
As to where Bancroft will go from here regarding the tent city, Jenkins says he is not sure, as it’s a multifaceted issue that is happening all over Canada, not just in Bancroft. He says Bancroft doesn’t have the services to handle it, and that transitional housing and shelter funding comes from upper levels of government. Without that federal and provincial funding, and as it is not in their mandate, he said the cost to do so would be exorbitant for local taxpayers.
Despite this, Jenkins says the town lobbies hard for the funding and services needed to help out those experiencing homelessness in Bancroft.
“Even today I was down in Belleville having discussions with the County on this very topic. But [the cleanup] was step one, stage one. Let’s just get it as safe as we can for now. People need to understand the process, the rules, the rights of people. What we have to go through to try and remedy some of these things. And also, what are we doing to help these people?” he says.
With winter coming soon, there is an added element of urgency to help the tent city residents. Bancroft was able to provide some shelter space last year which Hastings County operated, Jenkins said, but that it was not available this year.
“The County and ourselves have been working hard to find an additional space for a warming room, but we’re just short land, we’re short real estate, we’re short everything up here. But right now, I’m not overly optimistic that we’ll have a solution,” he says. “I honestly do not know what is going to happen this winter but everybody’s doing their best to come up with something.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times