One resident of an encampment at the former Brookside property said they might been in it for the long haul.
Chris Kneilands along with others were first displaced since July, 2023 when they were told their residence on Division Street had to be shut down due to raw sewage in the basement.
Since then at least one other home was also shut down leaving people without a home.
Encampments have been set up along Cobourg beach and on County property, but the encampment on the former property of Brookside Youth Centre has been there for coming up to two months.
Periodically, cleaners wearing white overalls and masks come in to pick up garbage.
On Thursday, October 26, 2023 two cleaners arrived and set off to clean-up the area around the encampment – accompanied by two paid-duty Cobourg Police officers.
A representative of Infrastructure Ontario was also at the facility.
Greeting them was Kneilands who also took time to give Today’s Northumberland a tour of the facility that houses 28 people day and night sleeping in approximately 15 tents.
Some tents have everything from hydro created from a generator (for electric heaters, cell phones, etc), along with a tent with a wood stove and two port-a-potties. One was made by encampment resident Ben Staples.
Another port-a-potty was delivered on Thursday by a local company, but as quick as it came, it left as it was on private property.
Kneilands described the group as, “a little family” that from time to time have “spats” but never anything serious.
“We try to keep ourselves busy.”
With Kneilands having the only wood stove, he said when it gets colder he may have more people in his all season tent which measures from 12′ x 20′.
Members of the local fire and police department have an “hourly parade” daily through the encampment.
Security rarely comes beyond the fence into the encampment, but when they do it’s usually to take photos for reports.
Some of the tents are in the process of moving to higher ground on the property due to the lower area of the property being a flood plain.
Police recovered a number of bicycles recently that were believed to have been stolen, but Kneilands said two of them were stolen, the rest were abandoned bicycles.
In one area of the encampment there are a number of frames and parts from bicycles.
Kneilands said that a lot of the items were taken from a dumpster and pieced back together.
Giving an example of a bent wheel where it can’t be used, but possibly the rest of the bicycle can.
“They’ll take five or six broken down bikes and make them into one usable bike.”
While explaining the area, one resident comes up to Keilands asking if he could use his wood stove to heat up some Alpha-Getti which Kneilands quickly replies “sure.”
“A lot of people don’t see what is actually going on here. Most of us are displaced for one reason or another. We’re trying to make change here for affordable housing and accessible housing.”
Kneilands said municipal authorities are “targeting” one owners homes with two so far having been shut down. Kneilands said others are in the works of being shut down.
Most of the people at the encampment came from the two homes that were shut down. Approximately five of the 28 people did not come from the homes that were shut down.
The homes that were shut down also took care of people that were homeless allowing them to come in for showers, food and warmth.
“So us not being there, those people are now back on the streets.
“We’re a community of people that help each other and we’ve all be displaced. So now we’re all in a community to help each other.”
Being at the current location, some people going by have tried to entice the group by hollering obscenities, throw stuff at the tents and cut the signs.
Kneilands said if people from the community want to donate blankets or anything, “it’s greatly appreciated and those that want to be nay sayers, just stay away – leave us alone.”
Walking around the encampment, the general public may be surprised that garbage is not strewn around the area. It is in specific areas or in garbage bags beside the tent/s.
Kneilands said the group is making the best of what they can do and relying on each other for support.
A number of white sheets have been set up outside and they are hoping to show outdoor movies.