Brampton council members forcing people from their shelter spaces should be ashamed
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Brampton council members forcing people from their shelter spaces should be ashamed

Homeless encampments here in Peel Region are some of the most visible evidence of the failure by all levels of government to protect the human right of all community members to adequate housing. Most recently in Brampton, city officials have responded not by addressing what causes encampments but by evicting the people living there, who, like all of us, are searching for home and belonging.

I acknowledge there are historical policy and funding decisions by all levels of government that have culminated into this catastrophic human rights crisis. Whether it is caused by divestment in community housing and non-market housing options, the financialization of the housing market, lack of skilled trades people, growing affordability issues, social assistance rates that have plateaued, and systemic underfunding to the Region for decades, the City of Brampton still must work together on solution-making from a Team Peel approach.

As a community advocate, person with lived experiences, working for a national homelessness body, and collaborating on research, advocacy and policy development on solutions to homelessness, I am deeply concerned about the actions by the City of Brampton, specifically certain council members, when acting to override the work of the Region of Peel, community organizations and experts (duty bearers) on an encampment protocol.

The Region of Peel Homeless Encampment Policy and Joint Protocols, as indicated in the “Homelessness Policy and Programs” report to Regional Council dated October 26, 2023, states that more investment is needed in homelessness prevention, emergency response, and supportive housing to end chronic homelessness. The report also noted a need for a Council-endorsed encampment policy and protocols, to better manage the growing number of encampments in Peel. As a result, a project to create a new encampment policy and protocols began in April 2024.

Despite recommendations by the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate on Encampments, delegations by community members and the Peel Alliance to End Homelessness in March 2024, certain members of Brampton council continue to apply political pressure, fuel fear among local citizens, and create distrust and mistrust between unhoused people, outreach teams, Regional staff and community members. What I find strikingly clear and alarming, is that power holders (council members) are using people’s lives for political play.

Last year, Toronto’s Ombudsman found similar tactics by municipal officials there, including members of council, caused unnecessary harm and infringed on the human rights of residents when they were removed from their places of shelter.

“The City owes a particularly high duty of fairness to those living in encampments,” Toronto Ombudsman Kwame Addo wrote in his findings. “Our investigation found that the City chose expediency over the needs of the individual: its focus on enforcement meant that it discounted the experiences of and impact on individuals in encampments. As a result, the City caused undue confusion and harm. The overall result was significant unfairness in how the City planned, engaged stakeholders, and communicated about the encampment clearings. The City showed a lack of commitment to honouring its pledge to a human rights approach and to serving this vulnerable population with the dignity and respect they deserve.” 

Following the Ombudsman’s recommendations, Toronto has just committed to a human rights-focussed approach whenever dealing with people sheltering in encampments or other similar spaces.

“It is recommended by researchers and experts that governments ‘establish meaningful and ongoing engagement’ with people living in encampments in the development of any relocation plans, including exploring alternative housing and shelter options that are acceptable to people living in encampments,” the Ombudsman wrote.

By contrast, Brampton City council members are covertly using by-laws; erecting signs in parks, issuing fines and citations, and removing belongings of people by paying security officials (taxpayers’ dollars) to evict encampment residents while telling constituents and business owners not to let community groups and other stakeholders find out what is happening. 

Certain Brampton municipal officials continue to stand by their reasoning for these actions, suggesting it is unsafe for people to encamp along the Etobicoke Creek trails because the surrounding parks and lands are on a flood plain.

This may be so, but I highly doubt the hundreds of properties (homes and businesses) along the same flood plain lands would be expropriated by the City the same way they are removing the tents and personal belongings of people sleeping on those lands in various forms of shelter.

Forced eviction is a serious violation of human rights. While there are exceptions to the legal prohibition on forcibly decamping residents for pressing safety concerns, evictions must still be undertaken according to human rights standards. The Canadian National Housing Strategy Act recognizes housing as a “fundamental human right” as it is defined under international human rights law. The right to housing was recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Canada formally agreed to comply with the right to housing under international human rights law in 1976 when it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Region of Peel wants to take a balanced, human rights-based approach where the safety and security and the rights of all citizens are upheld. This is the foundation of its new policy on encampments, as the crisis can no longer be ignored.

I also acknowledge that City of Brampton and council members are receiving many complaints and concerns of safety, theft, substance use and sanitation issues by other surrounding residents and businesses which may be the catalyst for ongoing actions to forcibly evict unhoused people, but, continuously undermining the work of the Region and support services and also putting tremendous pressure and responsibility for our homelessness crisis and encampments on Regional staff is not helpful and will not resolve either.

Working alongside and supporting the Region of Peel would be more productive and responsive, and as we have seen, despite fiscal constraints, Housing and Homelessness services have gone above and beyond to take care of our most vulnerable community members. 

The City could better use its own tax base for funding to the Region for supports and providing their unused lands and properties for community housing and supportive housing. This would be a solution centred approach, unlike their current reactive responses of spending tax dollars on security, excavating encampments and other nonsensical unnecessary projects (the $7 million dollar Tennis Dome on the same flood plain lands).

Over the last few months, the Region of Peel and Community partners have been able to transition many people along the Etobicoke Creek trails into temporary shelters in hotels, while respecting the individual needs of unhoused community members. But will a 400 percent overflow in the shelter system, the lack of sufficient funding resources and the additional pressure from the City of Brampton cause more chaos, anger and resentment?

I have recently been notified that the remaining lived experts have until Wednesday to decamp. I am asking Brampton officials to stand down, work with the Region and provide additional supports in funding to ensure the well-being of our most vulnerable community members. It is a matter of choice, and those choices will not go unnoticed.

Encampment residents, like all of us, are searching for home and belonging and are entitled to their human rights. Too often, they are met not with empathy and empowerment, but criminalization and dehumanization. It is up to local authorities, in partnership with other levels of government, to fulfill their obligations to encampment residents and stop forcibly evicting them without regard to their legally protected human rights.

If you are concerned about the treatment of unhoused people in your community, please support ongoing efforts and write Mayor Patrick Brown, Councillor Rowena Santos and Councillor Paul Vincente, show up to City and Regional Council to delegate and join me and others in the Peel Poverty Action Group at [email protected] or Canadian Lived Experience leadership Network at: [email protected]; or Peel Alliance to End Homelessness at: [email protected].


Michelle Bilek is a founding member of the Peel Alliance to End Homelessness and a member of the Peel Poverty Action Group who has served on the Poverty Reduction Strategy Committee of Peel.  

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