Regina’s long-running humanitarian crisis

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A photo taken from the street to the west of Regina’s city hall which shows the lawn space fully blocked off by fences which have “NO TRESSPASSING” signs attached to them. 
In Regina, “love your neighbours as yourself” appears to only apply to neighbours who pay rent or property tax... Lee Lim

Rather than making budget room to aid the houseless, Regina’s officers disband the camp that offered them support

Regina Police and the Fire Department took down the houseless encampment outside Regina’s city hall on July 28, 2023, stating that it posed an “imminent risk” to the security of its residents. The encampment began in part to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Regina’s city council voting unanimously to set aside funds to end homelessness in the upcoming municipal budget. Before the disbanding, there were 80-some tents housing approximately 70 people. 

Donations were made by community members which a host of volunteers coordinated alongside immediate, on-the-ground support. Naloxone-trained volunteers were also present to perform regular wellness checks and prevent potential overdoses. Although incredibly well-organized and peaceful, the camp witnessed three fires. The decision to decommission the encampment was credited to the first that broke out.  

No injuries were reported, but Regina Fire and Protective Services Chief Layne Jackson said it was “a close call,” and as a result he utilized the Fire Safety Act to order the encampment taken down. When asked about her stance, Regina mayor Sandra Masters said that while she thinks that the tearing down of the encampment is unfortunate, she was full in support of the Fire and Protective Services department. 

Residents of the encampment were given a deadline of 1:30 p.m. on July 28 to clear off the grounds. The decision was not received well by residents or volunteers. Some residents left, but more stood their ground with many volunteers who’d worked with them also standing alongside. Resistance was shown in the form of makeshift barricades made using chairs as police officers moved forward.  

The police threatened to use pepper spray if they deemed it necessary, and tore down tarps and tents – damaging some – and volunteers helped residents gather their belongings while sharing tears and hugs. All in all, the clear-out took about three hours, with the police making 11 arrests in that time. Both residents and volunteers were in this group, including Mandla and Thabo Mthembu, two long-time volunteers at the camp, and local activist Florence Stratton. 

“I ask, for the people at home, that if someone came to where you were living and you had to leave and you had nowhere to go… I just think, imagine if that was you,” Mandla Mthembu said at a gathering at city hall on July 28 shortly before police disbanded the camp. 

At that same gathering a volunteer spokesperson directly addressed the approaching officers, saying “Are you guys enacting the will of the man that keeps protecting this broken system? Or, are you joining us and coming with peace, love, laughter, and drums, and giving out food? That’s all we’re doing! That’s all we’re doing, providing safety, security, protection, a safe place to sleep.” 

City hall’s front lawn is now entirely fenced off with “no trespassing” signs hung frequently to deter anyone from setting up camp again. When asked about the fences, city manager Niki Anderson says that although the lawn was cleaned after residents left, it requires roughly $60,000 of repairs to restore which cannot be found in this year’s budget. Seeing as this has been made a budget issue, the fence may remain up until 2024.  

The encampment, which had grown rapidly, had formed into a community, and was a safe haven for the residents there. Many mentioned feeling more safe in the camp than anywhere else. The tearing down of this encampment will only create problems for its residents, as they still require a place to make shelter and largely must now achieve this alone. Several residents have also been reported dead following the camp takedown, a stark contrast to the number of reversed overdoses that were possible because of Naloxone-equipped volunteers while the camp ran. 

Pynk Mitton, a resident who had three tents set up, said of the camp that “It’s a community here, we’ve built a family.” Concerning the disbanding, Mitton later said, “I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. It’s just panic. Panic, panic, panic.” Mitton was the individual who made the “MAKE POVERTY HISTORY” sign hanging in front of city hall, which police also tore down on July 28.  

With winter quickly approaching, volunteer and resident worries are on the rise. Although the camp would not have been close to a solution during the brutal Saskatchewan winter, the strength in relationships and resources that come from being a part of a community rather than alone may well have helped. Many volunteers also believe that the fire that broke out was used as an excuse by the fire department to take down the camp. 

The council has been split about this crisis for a long while. A lawsuit was filed earlier this year by Ward 6 councilor Dan LeBlanc and Ward 3 councilor Andrew Stevens concerning the call on city manager Anderson’s office to include in the 2023 city budget a line item describing the cost of ending homelessness. LeBlanc and Stevens believed this had been unanimously supported by council in a motion in June 2022. They gained much support from protestors who had been barred from city hall during the council meeting. Both members faced criticism but no penalties for their lawsuit, and the legal action ultimately failed, but it did draw better attention to the crisis at hand. 

Houselessness is a serious humanitarian crisis and only the ones who live through it understand the horrors involved in having no shelter. With the number of houseless individuals in this city increasing every passing day, this issue requires a well-planned approach carried out with a sense of urgency. Although it’s fair to say that a project like this is easier spoken about than done, having no plan or budget line item to address the issue exposes a lack of attention on this crisis or solutions for it.  

Mayor Masters continues to be adamant in her decision to not let any similar camps crop up elsewhere in the city either, but the tearing down of the city hall encampment has essentially dispersed the individuals facing the problem of houselessness rather than attempting to stand with them and help.  

“I’m worried about my grandchildren’s future because of people like Mayor Masters,” said a man named Spotted Horse during the pre-disbanding rally on July 28 in front of city hall. At the end, a volunteer spokesperson boldly condemned those involved by reading the Bible verse Mark 8:36: “What does it profit a man to gain the world, and lose his soul?”  

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