NL

Tent encampment outside Confederation Building grows, as housing protest enters 2nd week

A tent encampment across the street from the provincial legislature in St. John's is growing, with about 20 tents now erected to protest a lack of affordable housing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Protesters offered transitional housing but want assurances of permanent housing

A group of people sitting in camping chairs around a barrel fire on Confederation Hill.
A tent encampment in St. John's protesting a lack of affordable housing has entered its second week. The protesters living in tents across the street from the provincial legislature are homeless and want assurances of permanent housing. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

A tent encampment across the street from the provincial legislature in St. John's is growing, with about 20 tents now erected to protest a lack of affordable housing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Organizers estimate there are now 30 people camped by Confederation Building.

"Our population is going up … and I'm sure there's more to come," said organizer Robert Osmond on Tuesday, characterizing the housing shortage as a crisis.

Protesters say the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation has offered them transitional housing but many are reluctant to take the offer. 

"We've not agreed to the transitional housing for the simple fact that it's a repetitive circle. Transitional housing, I've been part of it for eight years already," said Penny Mutrey.

WATCH | Tent protesters react to offer of transitional housing:

Tent protesters offered transitional housing — will they accept?

6 months ago
Duration 2:42
Protesters at a tent encampment near Confederation Building say they’ve been offered transitional housing. Some are in favour of it, but some have serious questions. Hear their reasons for and against.

Mutrey doesn't want to enter the shelter system because she is a recovering drug addict and fears relapsing if she's around people who are using drugs. Protesters won't go anywhere until they're offered permanent housing, like apartments, she said.

Shawn Nosworthy, who has also been a part of the protest since it began Oct. 2, said the demonstration has become bigger than he thought it would be.

He said he wants assurances — in writing — that any shelter offered will lead to permanent housing before he calls off the the protest.

"Give us some kind of letter or something stating that it's transitional for a certain period, that that's not the end game and there will be a permanent setting at the end — then I'm totally fine with it, because it gets all the people that are behind me inside so that they're not going to have to deal with the rain, the snow," Nosworthy said.

A woman wearing a pink hat and a black jacket standing on a grass lawn.
Protester Penny Mutrey says transitional housing is a repetitive cycle. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Nosworthy said he has been living in a tent since the end of April. He hopes that landing a permanent home will be the stepping stone he needs to get working again in the building trades as a carpenter and tiler.

"I think the government needs to step up, I think they need to stop looking at it as a dollar sign and seeing it as we're people, too." 

Osmond said most people involved in the protest don't want to go back into the shelter system because they fear they'll fall through the cracks again. 

He also wants assurances in writing that any stay in a shelter will be temporary. 

"If you don't see it in writing they can just get you to move here and put you in a place for two or three days and ship you off somewhere else," he said. "And that's half the problem with us people here, that we're being shipped around, shipped around, shipped around. There's no structure, there's no stability, it's just here, there, gone again."

A man holding a box of fast food. He's standing in front of tents.
Robert Osmond was the first person to pitch a tent in the park. He's pictured here Thursday with food dropped off by supporters. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Osmond said permanent housing would be life-changing because it would mean he'd be able to get back to work and be self-sufficient.

Provincial NDP Leader Jim Dinn, who has been visiting the encampment almost daily, says housing problems have gotten worse since he was elected in 2019. 

A 78-year-old woman who recently became homeless was taken to the tent city over the weekend, but has since found space in a shelter that doesn't have stairs. 

"Not perfect, but at least she's not exposed to the elements," Dinn said.  

"Emergency shelters, the key word is "emergency" — but when emergency shelters become the norm there's a problem here," he said.

Dinn said the encampment has given the homeless protesters something they haven't had in a while: a voice. 

"I'd like to believe that the premier, when he looks out from of his office, sees this as a constant reminder that his government needs to do better by these people." 

CBC News has asked N.L. Housing if it will offer the protesters permanent housing but has not yet received a response.

A handwritten sign is pictured in front of tents, which reads "housing not tents."
Organizers estimate there are now 30 people living in tents by Confederation Building. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Gillis

Journalist

Heather Gillis is a journalist based in St. John's. She has been working at CBC NL since March 2020, but has been reporting in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2011. Heather has a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College and a bachelor of arts from Memorial University. You can reach her by email at Heather.Gillis@cbc.ca

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