Dozens protest in downtown Guelph to support ‘homeless neighbours’

Council defers controversial bylaw to limit encampments on city property pending result of Kingston case

GUELPH – Crisp winter weather didn’t deter dozens from gathering downtown bright and early on Valentine’s Day in a show of love and support for people facing homelessness.

The protest kicked off at 8am, two hours before City of Guelph council sat for a public meeting to discuss a proposed bylaw intended to address encampments set up on city property. 

Protestors joined together for chants such as “We want justice, you say how? Drop the posed bylaw now!” 

Honking car horns sounded in support as people drove through the busy intersection in front of the Basilica of Our Lady church in Guelph. 

By 9am, more than 35 people were protesting.

Community advocate Kate Nixon, one of the organizers, told the Advertiser she wants “to make it clear that we are at a really critical point in the housing crisis.

“This bylaw only contributes to the ongoing injustice against the unhoused,” Nixon said.

Instead of marginalizing people living in tents by taking a hostile “not in my backyard” attitude, “we have to … address the humanity of the problem,” she added.

“We have to stop the suffering and isolation people are facing.”

Ken Lynch attended the protest because he knows what homelessness feels like. As a teenager he slept outside on the streets of Toronto.

For Lynch, the ultimate goal is to find homes where people can not only survive, but thrive.

“People deserve a warm place to lay their head,” he said. “One that is supportive.”

For Mars Russell, community care is a key piece of the conversation.

During the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about “loving your neighbours and showing up for them,” Russell recalled. 

So that’s why she came out to the rally – to show up for her neighbours. 

Protestor Bee Kent said they find the timing of the proposed bylaw particularly upsetting, as winter is such a hard time to be homeless. 

“And a meeting on Valentine’s Day,” was bad timing, as people are less likely to show up, Russell added. 

“It’s disgusting,” Kent said.

But people did show up to the council meeting; attendees say about 50 members of the public filled the gallery benches.

The meeting continued all day, going into closed session at around 3:15pm. The public meeting was set to reconvene between 7 and 7:30pm the same day.

The eventual end of the public meeting will not be the end of the conversation, Nixon said.

“We will be there, continuously putting pressure on stakeholders to make the right decisions, and to push for solutions that actually uplift people,” she said.

Nixon added she’s feeling “very thrilled by both the protest and the meeting because despite the timing of this council meeting it was still a very large turnout of community members that were against the bylaw and who were in support of our community members that are living in tents.”

Ultimately, Guelph council decided to defer the controversial bylaw to deal with homeless encampments on city property, pending an appeal court ruling on a similar matter in Kingston.

A municipal bylaw there was previously ruled unconstitutional by the Superior Court of Justice.