By Geoff Agombar
Local Journalism Initiative
Starting around 9 a.m. Monday morning, city trucks and workers began their work of dismantling and carting away the encampment under Joffre Bridge in Sherbrooke.
As rain fell throughout the day, camp residents, media cameras, police, neighbours, locals, and street social workers cycled through and watched and talked as the workers pulled down walls and loaded the pieces into trucks. Tents were emptied into piles, piles were dumped onto flattened tents, and dragged across to trucks and trailers as the camp slowly disappeared.
Few camp residents remain. Those who have come to watch the camp come down say they have found a spot in an apartment. Or, they will go back to camping in the woods across the river. Or, back to sleeping on cardboard in an underground parking lot nearby. Or, to a squat. Or, they haven’t decided yet but probably to the shelter tonight so they can start warm and showered tomorrow as they scout their next spot to camp out.
By mid-afternoon, the street-side half of the camp is gone, except for one of the firepit cans which was sunk several feet into the ground. That will require more than elbow grease to remove.
A few camp residents and activists are sat on a stack of palettes near the last smoking trash can. The last bag of donated bread loaves sits unattended. Someone offers hot tea.
Around 1 p.m., Mayor Évelyne Beaudin arrives for a press conference. The cameras and microphones pull in tight, ringed by officers, as work on the bottom half of the site continues unabated.
Beaudin says maintaining the link between people from the camp and community organizations will be a priority. “People who leave here and don’t go to the Partage Saint-François, where have they gone? How can we be sure they have found themselves in a situation that is safe for them? Then, can we ease them into community resources where they can access solutions for the different problems they are experiencing?”
Beaudin notes the deep generosity of Sherbrooke residents evidenced in recent weeks, but she says donations directly to the camp have enabled an accumulation of risks. “When people receive food directly at the camp, they don’t go to the Partage or the Chaudronné for their food support and they are deprived of a contact with a front-line intervener.”
Beaudin says local community organizations need the support of the city and residents alike and encourages everyone to channel their holiday giving through the relevant organizations. “As the holidays approach, we know people want to think of the needs of others who are less privileged, who have fewer opportunities in life. But the best way to help these people is always to go through those who have the expertise,” says Beaudin.
André, who sleeps at the Partage Saint-François shelter but keeps warm through the day at the camp, steps forward to call on the mayor by her first name, asking if she remembers him from two days ago when they sat together by the fire.
“You told me there would be no bulldozer,” André says and Beaudin agrees. “Was that just a play on words? Because, look!” as he gestures to the bare lot. “It’s all gone.”
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