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Summerside homeless advocacy group looking for backyards to house tents

The tents, designed for ice fishing, are insulated but have no floor, and so require a platform or tarp underneath. (The Village/Facebook - image credit)
The tents, designed for ice fishing, are insulated but have no floor, and so require a platform or tarp underneath. (The Village/Facebook - image credit)
The tents, designed for ice fishing, are insulated but have no floor, and so require a platform or tarp underneath.
The tents, designed for ice fishing, are insulated but have no floor, and so require a platform or tarp underneath.

The tents, designed for ice fishing, are insulated but have no floor, and so require a platform or tarp underneath. (The Village/Facebook)

A volunteer group in Summerside is still looking for places to set up tents it has purchased to provide some shelter for homeless people in the city.

Summerside has no low-barrier emergency shelter. It has LifeHouse, a shelter and transitional housing for women and children, and Reaching Home, serving off-reserve Indigenous people. The P.E.I. government plans to open a new 10-bed shelter in April.

The advocacy group, called The Village, says it is assisting about 35 homeless people in the city. As part of that effort it has purchased 26 ice-fishing tents, each suitable for two people, but they have been unable to find a place for all of them.

"We have seven set up in private yards from kind community members," said executive director Elysha Whitlock.

'I now am dedicating quite a bit of time to bandaging frostbite wounds,' says Elysha Whitlock.
'I now am dedicating quite a bit of time to bandaging frostbite wounds,' says Elysha Whitlock.

The city has been supportive of The Village's work, says Elysha Whitlock, but not on the question of its tent plans. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"We are still struggling to find one parcel of land to essentially set up a group of tents, but we have had some very kind and caring community members step forward and offer up their yards."

The group previously had three offers for properties, but two of those were withdrawn when neighbours expressed concern. The third is now requiring a 24/7 security presence, which the group cannot afford.

The Village is still holding out hope that the tents could be set up on a single site somewhere, said Whitlock. The other option is that 19 other homeowners step forward to allow a tent in their yards.

'This is all pretty new'

The city has been supportive of The Village's work, said Whitlock, but has not gotten behind the idea of a tent encampment.

"They are fighting alongside of us for housing, they are fighting alongside of us for our new emergency shelter," she said.

'We have been advocating, and asking for... and calling and nudging and everything we possibly can be doing to try and move this along,' says Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher.
'We have been advocating, and asking for... and calling and nudging and everything we possibly can be doing to try and move this along,' says Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher.

Summerside has been advocating for the province to build an emergency shelter in the hopes of avoiding a tent city, says Mayor Dan Kutcher. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"They do not technically support us setting up a tent encampment."

Summerside Mayor Dan Kutcher said the idea of a tent encampment is complicated.

"This is all pretty new, in terms of having tents in backyards," said Kutcher.

"I don't think anybody should really be living in a tent, whether it's in the woods or in someone's backyard. We want to make sure people have the shelter and supports that go with that shelter."

It is impossible to say how the city would respond to a tent encampment without knowing the details of it, he said, adding there is a growing body of case law in Canada that recognizes shelter as a charter right, and if the only option is tents then people have a right to those tents.

The city has been advocating for an emergency shelter for the precise reason that it does not want a tent encampment, said Kutcher, but he does recognize that The Village is doing its best to fill a gap this winter, while the weather is cold and the new shelter not yet open.

Given the number of inadequately housed people in the city, Whitlock said the work of The Village will continue even after the emergency shelter opens in April.