Tent City: The voices of Kitchener’s protest camp

Young people camping in Victoria Park want a downtown drop-in centre for homeless youth

By Clare Bonnyman, Danielle Kappele, CBC News Posted: Aug 22, 2017 

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Devon Roussell (left) lost his partner, house and job in one week he said, and is camping out in tent city to try and raise awareness of the struggles of homeless youth in Kitchener. He stands with a man who identified himself as Jonathan. (Flora Pan/CBC)

A tent city has been set up in Victoria Park by people who want to see a drop-in centre for homeless youth in downtown Kitchener.

The group, which is located in the back corner of the park, started small but is quickly growing, organizers said.

“We have about 15-20 people and several tents,” a member of the tent city protest camp who identified himself only as Jonathan told CBC News.

Most of those involved are homeless youth, including Jonathan,  and are protesting for a service which they say would change their lives.

“The community here in Kitchener-Waterloo is in dire need of a 24-hour drop-in centre that is centrally located downtown,” he said.

‘We are staying out here as long as it takes.”

Lack of options

“I don’t have a home,” another member of the group Devon Roussell said.

Roussell told the CBC he lost his partner, his job and his home in one week. Struggling to get back on his feet, he lives in a shelter.

It’s a resource he said he is grateful for, but comes with its own set of challenges, like the bathroom.

“They do their best to clean up. But it’s not a place where you want to shower. And if you do … you’ve got to constantly look out the shower curtain to make sure no one is taking your things,” he said.

“You don’t feel safe.”

He joined the tent city group for a sense of community as well as change.

“You need assistance, and some people don’t know about all the resources that are out there. Tent city is going to make people aware of that,” he said. “They need to know that there is help out there, they don’t have to live on the street.”

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The group, which has several tents and 15-20 people, is comprised mostly of homeless youth who. (Danielle Kappele/CBC)

‘You can’t live on $600’

For individuals like Roussell, social assistance helps, but it’s still not enough.

“You can’t live on $600,” he said.

And while resources like the rent bank are helpful, they’re near impossible to utilize.

“You bring up the words rent bank to a landlord and immediately there is discrimination and judgement and they’re not going to rent to you,” he said.

A 24-hour drop-in centre downtown would provide a different kind of help to homeless youth, and put the idea of social back in social assistance.

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Roussell (left) doesn’t think current social assistance efforts are enough. “You can’t live of $600,” he said. (Danielle Kappele/CBC)

“It would be nice to have a community centre that you could drop into, maybe take a shower if you need to, wash your clothes, maybe eat a meal,” he said.

And members of tent city are willing to work for it.

“Maybe earn your keep and help clean it,” Roussell suggested.

Searching for community and change

While many of the protesters are coming together for a future, some are finding that tent city is helping their lives right now.

‘This helps me to have somewhere to go and people I know care about me.’– Brianna McEachern, Tent City protestor

One of tent city’s residents is 19-year-old Brianna McEachern, and she said she has been on the streets since she was “much younger.”

For her the tent city community offers stability and a sense of belonging — something she said is hard to find living on the streets.

“I’ve been in and out of the shelter,” she said. “It kind of sucks but this helps me to have somewhere to go and people I know care about me.”

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