Encampments and tent communities are appearing in Burlington and Oakville at a rapid rate, according to Halton Regional Police.
A Halton Police Services Board report indicates the encampments have become more apparent in recent months, and while not large, they are scattered throughout the community.
“Small encampments within Burlington and Oakville have been identified; within them are individuals who present with complex mental health and addictions issues,” according to the police department report. “Not all of these individuals are homeless, however, they do commonly lack access to the support services required to address their acuities.”
Halton Police Chief Stephen Tanner told a recent meeting of the board that while the situation hasn’t escalated to the extent that other municipalities face, the local increase is apparent. Tanner said there have been noticeable increases in Burlington and specifically near GO Stations.
Halton’s Deputy Chief Roger Wilkie confirmed there has been a rising concern about homelessness from members of the public. He added the issue is broader than a police matter.
“We know that you can’t police your way out of homelessness, it’s not a crime,” Wilkie said. “There are a lot of reasons why people don’t have a home. It can be intimate partner violence, it can be substance abuse, it can be poverty and a lack of employment. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work.
Wilkie said concerns are significant enough to reactivate the Homelessness Action Table, a region-wide body of stakeholders that has dealt with social issues in the past.
Wilkie said the multi-faceted approach of the Homelessness Action Table is what is needed.
“The Action Table allows all stakeholders to come to the table and drive change in our community,” he said. “The police are one element in that approach. Displacing people or moving them around doesn’t work. Providing supports and understanding the root causes and why people are in the situation that they are in provides meaningful and long-term sustainable solutions to homelessness.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with inhalton.com, Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, said local officials know people are sleeping outside, some in tents or in other forms of make-shift shelter.
“We are aware that from time-to-time people will see tents or people sleeping outside and it’s a growing issue because we have a housing crisis, a homelessness and mental health addictions crisis in our country and of course, we are seeing it right here in Burlington,” the mayor said.
She said when the situation arises, there is a multi-tiered response, mostly through Halton Region’s social services department. She said there are also arrangements with local hotels and motels that provide temporary accommodation until long-term assisted housing can be found for individuals or families.
“It’s about getting the right kind of care to people so that nobody has to spend the night outdoors,” she said.