OTTAWA – On December 10th, International Human Rights day, residents of Tent City and their supporters stood by as their tents and belongings were bulldozed by employees of the National Capital Commission under the supervision of the Ottawa Police Service.
On Monday, some residents of Tent City were provided with temporary accommodations – a motel room – in Vanier so they could shower and sleep somewhere warm. Residents accepted this offer with the understanding they had 48-hours to come back to the site near Bayview Station to collect their belongings, which included items the community generously donated to support their survival. Unfortunately, residents woke up 7am Tuesday morning to news that the NCC and the Ottawa Police were already at the site, dismantling their tents.
“This is what the criminalization of poverty looks like,” says Leila Attar, advocate and member of Overdose Prevention Ottawa. “[The city has] no resources to actually support people who are homeless, but they have resources to come in, kick them off, forcibly remove them” said Attar as she shared distressing images of personal belongings being bulldozed and tossed into large bins.
The forced eviction of Tent City is a violation of international human rights and the displacement of residents from their community puts them at serious risk. Amid all the chaos yesterday, many residents missed long-awaited and life-saving medical appointments because of this needless and preventable distress. They will now likely miss out on more appointments and supports as their temporary “housing” is located outside of their community, far away from medical and social resources. This isolation exacerbates their already harsh experiences of chronic homelessness.
When residents of Tent City were informed on Sunday, December 8th that they would be forcibly evicted by the NCC, they quickly organized and compiled a list of demands. These demands include things like “being treated at all times with dignity and respect by city officials, NCC officials, police officers, and any other government representatives.” They also requested that emergency shelter be provided “in the neighbourhood or as proximate to the neighbourhood as possible.” Most importantly, residents wanted to be consulted directly by the City of Ottawa and NCC officials on any decisions made about their living situation.
Unfortunately, this list of demands was ignored and the City of Ottawa, the National Capital Commission, and the Ottawa Police chose to distinguish themselves as champions of the heartless on a day when we were meant to recognize the importance of human rights.
“My heart aches for my neighbours,” said Samantha McAleese – supporter and advocate – on Twitter yesterday. “This dehumanizing and cruel display… on International Human Rights Day is a new low for Ottawa.”
Today, December 11th, Councillor Catherine McKenney will bring a notice of motion to City Council to declare housing and homelessness an emergency in Ottawa. This motion, and all actions that stem from it, must keep the people experiencing homelessness at the forefront. The demands made by residents of Tent City echo the needs and concerns of others living outside, living in shelters, and experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity in its many forms. Overdose Prevention Ottawa, residents of Tent City, and other neighbours and advocates are requesting to sit down with City officials to share their recent experiences and discuss the best way forward.