Patrick Brown & Rowena Santos ignored housing problem for years as encampments spread across Brampton; Peel hosts info session to address crisis 
Feature Image Alexis Wright/The Pointer

Patrick Brown & Rowena Santos ignored housing problem for years as encampments spread across Brampton; Peel hosts info session to address crisis 

On Thursday May 9th the Region of Peel will host a workshop for Brampton residents concerned about the increasing number of homeless encampments across the municipality. 

According to data from the Region of Peel, there are close to 130 encampments across the region, with a large collection of them along the Etobicoke Creek corridor in Brampton, including in Calvert Park, Tara Park, Ken Whillans Park and Duggan Park. 

In February, the federal government’s National Housing Advocate, labelled the homeless encampment situation in Canada a human rights crisis, and demanded the Liberals immediately draft a national action plan to provide policies and funding to grassroots organizations to fix many of the root causes. 

In Peel, where social service organizations receive some of the lowest funding levels per capita of anywhere in the province, the encampment crisis has been left to worsen, exacerbated by a surge in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the region. 

Daphna Nussbaum, a member of the Peel Alliance to End Homelessness, told The Pointer’s What’s the Point podcast that the human rights crisis seen in the unfolding encampment situation is worsening across parts of Peel. 

With a shelter system operating at over 400 percent capacity, those who cannot afford housing are left with few options but setting up camp. 

The Peel Alliance to End Homelessness provided 45 interviews and testimonials to the federal housing advocate which formed part of the final report released in February. It was a disturbing picture of people operating in “constant survival mode”, Nussbaum said.

Michelle Bilek, also with the Peel Alliance, speaking to Region of Peel council members on March 21, said those living in these encampments must form part of any discussion on the future policies and protocols and there must be “ongoing and meaningful” engagement.

Despite the calls for local solutions, a humane approach and direct engagement with fellow residents who are struggling, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and Councillor Rowena Santos brought forward a motion at the Region that alienated many experiencing homelessness. Their resolution claimed “the growing number of encampments in local parks have led to significant community safety risks to residents (housed and unhoused), businesses, staff and first responders, due to large amounts of debris, recurring open-air fires, illegal substance abuse, illegal drug activity, and theft.”

Brown has pushed budget freezes and cost cutting at both levels of municipal government since his election in 2018. He and Santos have cut funding for downtown revitalization, failed to properly fund Peel’s ambitious Home For All housing plan to address the lack of housing and shelter support across the region, leading to the program being abandoned due to a lack of money for the plan, and have repeatedly ignored the crushing demand for expanded emergency shelter capacity, with Brown demanding budgets that ignore the most critical needs in Brampton and Peel Region.

Brown ordered a security company to raid an encampment and disperse people who were sheltering there just north of downtown two years ago. He then said he was heartbroken a year later when a man died at an encampment in Mississauga while waiting for an open bed at a nearby shelter. 

Instead of taking any responsibility themselves, through the Brampton or Peel Region budget, the motion from Santos and Brown calls for advocacy efforts to pressure the federal government for funding support.

Ottawa’s $2.2 billion Reaching Home funding program for shelters across the country was launched in 2019 and expanded to almost $4 billion to deal with the recent rise in homelessness. It also launched a ten-year $82-billion+ National Housing Strategy aimed at providing the type of homes needed to help those in vulnerable situations. 

The federal government also allocated $575 million over the last year for shelter support specifically to accommodate asylum seekers.

Regional councillors have still criticized Ottawa for not providing Peel with adequate funding for emergency shelter support and immediate help to accommodate the surge of asylum applicants seeking housing in Peel. As of early February the Region reported that 1,300 asylum claimants were being housed in hotels and existing emergency shelters, which councillors have failed to adequately expand since Brown and Santos were elected in 2018. There are currently 449 emergency shelter beds in Peel at eight facilities. Hotels are now being used for the majority of spaces.


Asylum claimants at a Peel hotel; shelter spaces are chronically over capacity.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


The situation has grown so desperate, with Brown even suggesting during one Regional budget meeting that any increase to spending should be capped, before departments even presented the dire need for increased funding. 

Instead of adequately budgeting for shelter expansion, it was ignored. This caused the cost for emergency hotel accommodation to explode, from about $2.5 million for overflow hotel space in 2020, to a projected $42 million to $68 million this year, according to staff and council. These amounts are currently unbudgeted, as Brown, Santos and other members continue to ignore their responsibility to fund Peel’s dangerously overburdened shelter system. They have been told for years by regional staff that the shelter system has been operating beyond capacity and there needs to be much more than BAND-AID solutions.

Now, with encampments spreading across Brampton, residents are demanding answers from Brown, Santos and others elected to responsibly use taxpayer dollars for the public good. 

They sat around the regional council table, passing budgets that ignored the need for affordable housing and emergency shelter expansion for years. 

Between 2018 and 2020, less than 1 in 2,600 new ownership units that came online in Peel were affordable for low-income families, after Brown and Santos, along with the majority of their regional council colleagues, failed to fund the Home For All program, which eventually had to be abandoned.

Last year councillors, faced by sobering precarious housing data across Brampton and Mississauga (only about one in five residents could afford market prices for ownership or rent), decided to pursue a much more modest affordable housing plan.   

Brampton residents contacted The Pointer to express their concern over the workshop being hosted by the Region of Peel Thursday to address the spread of encampments in the city.

They questioned why there is a requirement to register and said the session, at City Hall, has not been promoted by the City of Brampton.    

It’s unclear whether anyone with lived experience was invited or will attend the event which will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. inside the Conservatory Room.

The federal housing advocate’s report offers guidance for municipalities trying to address the situation. A critical recommendation is to end the forced evictions of those living in encampments, contrary to what Brown has ordered in the past.

“Encampments are not a safe or sustainable solution for housing. For people living in these encampments, every day is a matter of life and death,” the report reads. “At the same time, encampments represent an effort by people who are unhoused to claim their human right to housing and meet their most basic needs for shelter….Many encampment residents have highlighted the sense of community they experienced when living in an encampment with others facing similar struggles.”


Patrick Brown ordered a raid on a Brampton encampment in 2022.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files)


Using police and security to force people from encampments only worsens the housing insecurity they face, the report states and is a violation of basic human rights set out under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Governments must “Put in place alternatives to removal of encampments that are designed following meaningful engagement with encampment residents to find solutions that meet their needs,” the report states. 

The City of Brampton has been criticized in the past for using private security firms to force homeless residents from encampments.

In September of 2022, residents began protesting outside City Hall after repeated raids ordered by Brown on an encampment at Calvert Park.

“They threw everything in the garbage. I lost not far away from $1,500 of camping gear,” Oliver Pourchelle, one of the occupants who had joined in the protests, told The Pointer at the time. “All my clothes too, they didn’t leave anything.”

This type of response needs to end, the federal housing advocate states. 

“Police, by-law enforcement, and emergency service need clear direction to halt the confiscation of belongings, surveillance and harassment, which violate the human rights of encampment residents. All enforcement measures undertaken must be compliant with human rights standards.”

However, in emails sent to The Pointer, there appear to be steps that might be taken to once again remove individuals from encampments. 

Without providing adequate shelter options or affordable housing, it remains unclear how individuals staying in encampments will be treated. Residents hope answers will be provided at the public event Thursday.

Should the City of Brampton try to force individuals to move, it could lead to potential legal challenges, similar to what was seen in Kitchener. In that case, a Judge blocked the Region of Waterloo’s efforts to kick encampment residents off a property because without adequate shelter system capacity to house the approximately 50 residents of the encampment, the Region would effectively be removing them from their home without anywhere else to go, violating their Charter right to shelter.



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