Homeless pair have lived rough in the city for months

This homeless couple still lives rough, here near the public health building along the city's east bayshore. They were offered a warm place to stay for a few days and so they gathered some belongings on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 in Owen Sound, Ont. Scott Dunn/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network

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They arrived to find their encampment strewn with their belongings and immediately started hunting to see what was taken.

Homeless people have possessions too.

They grew more agitated with each new revelation of loss – the laptop, their few photos, her jewelry, her purse, her new clothes – taken within the last three days while they were staying with someone.

They appeared to be the last of a handful of people living rough in a somewhat remote location in Owen Sound. The others have moved on. Local agencies refer to it as a colony. The couple has been living like this for about three months.

The encampment is in a wooded area in the shadow of a large, old industrial tank by the east shore of the harbour. It’s in a clearing among large trees on private property on formerly industrial land, within view of the Grey Bruce Health Unit building.

They’d come back to fetch bedding and other belongings and to check on their stuff after they had been invited to stay for a few days with someone who is being evicted from her downtown Owen Sound rental at month’s end.

It “wasn’t so bad” camping out in the summer, but now flurries blew in off the bay and it was cold and damp, said the tall, 38-year-old Owen Sound man who declined to give his name.

A sock hung on a branch of a felled tree. More clothing was draped over a fence. There was fire pit and a tent big enough to stand in.

The man’s 34-year-old partner cried out each time she discovered what else was missing from their tent, while he picked up garbage and possessions outside.

There’s another, vacated tent nearby, in an area strewn with litter, down a path trodden in the long grass. There are empty peanut butter jars, tins of tomatoes and beans, a bottle of shampoo, a pot and lots more on the ground.

More paths lead to another tent-sized area of trampled undergrowth on the opposite side of an access lane to the property. “No Trespassing” signs are everywhere.

This campsite with the grain elevator in the background appeared abandoned on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 in Owen Sound, Ont. But it was part of a homeless encampment there this summer. Scott Dunn/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network

The 38-year-old man said he’s blacklisted by local landlords. He grew incensed and louder at there being such a list, as he talked and set the camp back in order.

“That’s discrimination right there. And they say don’t rent to this guy, he’s a drug addict. Don’t rent to this guy here because he don’t pay his rent. This guy’s dirty, this guy he carries bedbugs . . . So it’s like, how do you get around that?”

“That’s not right. I’ve always paid my rent,” he said. It’s drawn directly from his Ontario Disability Support Program cheque.

He is banned from Safe ‘n Sound drop-in centre for three months, he said. The county-supported refuge for homeless people and others provides a place to shower, get lunch and other help. He said their request that morning for a hat for his partner was denied until later this month. They’re really upset about that. She’s been banned there before too, he said.

“I just roll with the punches, you know? Whatever.”

He has an eight-year-old daughter. His parents died in Owen Sound three years ago, seven months apart. After they died, he rented from a relative who, he said, told him to get out. He said it “just went bad from that day on.”

“I lost my kid, I lost my cars, I lost my parents, I lost my way. I lost everything.”

He was sentenced to two months in jail last November for possession of $15 worth of meth and of a pair of stolen blue jeans after police raided the couple’s Hanover residence, he said. Charges were dropped against his spouse.

The pair left their camp with a carload of stuff and were driven to Community Connections, where coffee is set out in the mornings and staff support people with mental illness. The 38-year-old had missed an appointment and wanted to rebook.

They got mats woven out of recycled milk bags from there, to serve as the ground layer of a bedroll. He’s hoping to get housing through that agency.

While she waited in the warm car, she said she was homeless a bit last year. And she was living rough when she was pregnant almost 10 years ago. She and her then-boyfriend pitched a tent just north of the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre, a 10-minute walk away from their latest camp.

It went unsaid that she and her partner could be back in their tent this weekend. She said her mother takes care of her daughter now in Owen Sound.

They ended up evicted and homeless on Aug. 9, after the 38-year-old disputed his landlord’s demand for $450 for utilities, which he thought was included in the $500 rent.

By then, they’d used up all their entitlements for emergency housing at YMCA Housing, which included the month they stayed in an Owen Sound motel last winter.

His partner was still living in Hanover when he went to jail, but something happened and she left her apartment.

So when evicted Aug. 9, they lived with friends for a while, then began living outdoors.

First they stayed by a gazebo in Queen’s Park, across from the Owen Sound library, for a few days, along with other homeless people who stayed overnight. But police told them they couldn’t sleep there. That’s when they moved on to their encampment and got a tent.

It’s uncommon to see people sleeping overnight in Owen Sound parks.

She seemed resigned and overwhelmed.

“We go to the Y and, um, I don’t know what else to do.”

With the blacklisting, it’s difficult. She mentioned a local landlord who she thinks “might rent to him.”

It’s not just the apartment scarcity, it’s the price, she said. “Apartments are like $1,400,” she said. But if they went in half each, maybe it could work, she said.

She gets a $300 “street cheque” but if they found a place to live, Ontario Works would provide more for rent.

Asked if drugs are the main problem for her, she said no.

“Everyone dibbles and dabbles. I don’t know. We just haven’t had any luck finding a frickin’ place that we can actually afford. Like there’s only rooms and they’re out at like Meaford.”

“No trespassing” signs are posted everywhere on the property which was home to about six homeless people this summer. Photo taken on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 in Owen Sound, Ont. Scott Dunn/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network Scott Dunn / Scott Dunn/Sun Times