Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie’s Motion to Ban Encampments Downtown
Amid growing concerns about an “uneasy” downtown environment, Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie is reluctantly proposing a ban on encampments and temporary shelters in the city’s downtown area.
He plans to present this proposal to the council on November 28.
Guthrie expressed his difficulty in reaching this decision, noting his reluctance to reach this point. He mentioned that downtown business owners frequently express their challenges in acting as makeshift social service providers, detracting from their focus on surviving in a tough economic climate.
My sincere hope is that my motion will highlight the untenable position cities have been kept in while advocating continually for solutions. The homelessness crisis, alongside addictions and mental health struggles, have escalated province wide due mainly to a lack of healthcare… pic.twitter.com/3b6e7kvIQe— Mayor Cam Guthrie (@CamGuthrie) November 17, 2023
Guthrie hopes his motion will spur efforts to find effective solutions, as current approaches are failing to address the escalating problem in downtown Guelph, a situation mirrored in other municipalities across the province.
He described the downtown atmosphere as a place of tension, balancing the need to support those experiencing homelessness with maintaining a safe, welcoming, and thriving public space.
The proposed motion, if passed, would instruct city staff to quickly draft a bylaw that bans setting up temporary or permanent shelters without authorization on downtown properties owned or occupied by the city. It would also prohibit bringing illegal, hazardous, or flammable materials into the downtown area.
Guthrie emphasized that his motion is not solely about eviction but includes considerations for relocating those affected. He acknowledges the complexity and sensitivity of the issue.
The motion does not specify a timeline for presenting the draft bylaw to the council, a deliberate choice by Guthrie to allow for legal and other considerations. This also aligns with the County of Wellington’s upcoming housing symposium.
Guthrie stressed the need for public spaces to be safe and welcoming for all, including those using encampments and those visiting downtown. He expressed concern that the current situation is deterring people from frequenting downtown, which cannot be overlooked.
While Guthrie doesn’t view his motion as a complete solution to the intertwined issues of homelessness, mental health, and addiction, he believes significant support must come from the provincial government. He expressed frustration over the lack of resources and urgency from the province, despite calls for action from the Ontario Big City Mayors. He emphasized the need for provincial funding to address this crisis, while municipalities focus on supporting the business sector and public spaces in downtown areas.