Bylaw and parks employees with the City of Greater Sudbury spent several hours on August 12 once again removing people living in Memorial Park.
More than 20 tents were set up before the 10 a.m. arrival of bylaw officers and city workers, and while they allowed the people residing in the tents to move of their own accord — to a degree — the message was clear. These people were to leave the park, and do so immediately.
In what is an ongoing situation in all parts of the city, not just Memorial Park, the homelessness and opioid crisis appears to be bursting at the seams.
The common message among outreach workers who were on site to represent their vulnerable clients, as well as from the group of demonstrators who came to protest the action, was that there was nowhere for any of these people to go.
As the bylaw officers approached the tent structure one man had been living in, under the pavilion in Memorial Park, he began destroying his own property. The man was clearly staring at the bylaw officers while he did so.
One man became enraged and began to shout at officers, golf club in hand.
As he neared the bylaw officers, Greater Sudbury Police tried to intervene in a calm approach using the man's name, and the man soon walked away.
However, due to him carrying the golf club, the officers continued to pursue him; “to talk” they could be overheard saying to him, something that more than 20 people (a mix of outreach workers and those living in the park) yelled and called for them to cease.
“You’re backing him into a corner, he’s walking away, just leave him alone,” they said. The police halted their pursuit, but did not back away.
Melanie Johncox, a concerned citizen who has been working with the downtown homeless since the fall, said that she gathered fellow community members to meet in Memorial Park to protest what was happening, and hopefully affect change.
She has seen this eviction cycle continue since 2020 and said every time people are dispersed, it is harder to help them.
“We come downtown to hand out socks or do outreach and we don't can't find people,” said Johncox. “If they're using drugs, they're at much higher risk of overdosing without people around to help. And then they eventually come back, of course, because the downtown core is where the services are.”
Lynn Hartwick-Vaillancourt was also present for the eviction protest. She said her goal was to stop the eviction and constant movements.
“They're our friends downtown, we look after them, and they need a stable place to set up and call home,” said Hartwick-Vaillancourt. “The city and council have to do something, they have to step up. Fall is six weeks around the corner, and we're gonna go into another nasty winter.”
With signs reading, “If you think removing the tents will remove the homelessness crisis, think again,” “Stop Hurting; Start Helping” and “City council you must do something,” protesters circled the area checking in with residents to see if they needed help.
One sign was directed at Mayor Brian Bigger, it read: “Mayor Bigger, you work for the people of Sudbury. The homeless are people, in case you’ve forgotten.”
Kharla Ghartey of STOPS (Sudbury Temporary Overdose Prevention Society), who was present at the dismantling, also had a message for the mayor. “The Mayor needs to get his a** down here right now to see this.” She too is fed up with the cyclical nature of the evictions.
An outreach worker who spoke to Sudbury.com on the condition of anonymity said that in the 20 years they have worked in outreach, they have seen a decline in services, as well as “a decline in how people are being treated.”
A witness to the dismantling, the outreach worker spoke to the trauma of the park evictions, mounting with trauma and mental illness that the vulnerable person may also be experiencing.
“It causes a lot of anxiety,” they said.
This outreach worker was also visibly emotional and frustrated in describing the task ahead. “The city expects us to intake them, to get their information to try and support them,” they said. “How can we do that when we can't find them, when they're continuously being dispersed, moved, feeling unwanted and insecure about where they're going to stay?”
She said the residents of Memorial Park felt safe where they were, a feeling hard to come by on the streets.
“They felt safe here,” said the outreach worker, “and now they're going to sleep on the concrete at CP rail?” The worker is referring to the CP rail parking area off Elgin Street, where belongings and people are routinely moved by the city.
This information was obtained by outreach workers onsite, as there was no information told to those being removed from the park until said outreach workers began to speak with bylaw, who then co-operated.
The outreach worker spoke to the lack of other options for those who were sleeping in the park.
“The shelter is full,” they said, “They're turning people away, 15 to 20 people a night, at minimum. The women's shelter, as of yesterday, was full as well. So they have no choice. They don't have an option.”
The outreach worker has tried for many years to have an area designated for those who are living rough, perhaps in Memorial Park itself. “I've been asking for that for the last two years. It's falling on deaf ears,” they said. “Give them a spot. Add some bathrooms, add some security. make them feel like they're part of our community.”
It is this small dignity that the outreach worker feels will make the most difference to those who are wrapped in the cycle of homelessness.
Little things like proper nutrition and a good night sleep, but also, the ability to shower, to use the bathroom. The worker said this is causing the changes in behaviour that Sudbury’s downtown is now seeing.
“That's our concern,” they said. “We're expected to support and service them (those being removed from the park). But they're making our job next to impossible and they're making it impossible for the people here.”
Today’s dismantling seemed to be particularly emotional for those involved compared to others witnessed over the past year by Sudbury.com. Several members of the encampment were crying, hugging and shouting at bylaw officers.
One woman, while packing her things from underneath the pavilion as a minimum of six bylaw officers, 10 city parks employees and several bystanders watched, yelled “I should have sold tickets for this, then I could have made money at least.”
Another said, “It’s not like if we’re not here, we’re no longer a problem.”
One man questioned a bylaw officer directly, not aggressively, but passionately. He asked “Why are you doing this?” The bylaw officer, regretfully, shook his head and pointed behind him at Tom Davies Square, the tower overlooking the park.
The man in the park yelled again, echoing the call of many, “Well, get the higher ups out here then.”
Sudbury.com has reached out to the City of Greater Sudbury for comment. More to come.