Tents by the playground at Rainbow Park May 16, 2024 (Photo by: Lindsay Newman/ Blackburn Media)Tents by the playground at Rainbow Park May 16, 2024 (Photo by: Lindsay Newman/ Blackburn Media)

Measures to be implemented at Rainbow Park

Health and safety measures, including temporary washrooms, will be added to Rainbow Park this week to address concerns at the homeless encampment.

Sarnia city council voted on June 14 to implement temporary measures at the downtown park.

City of Sarnia Communication Manager Steve Henschel said residents will begin to see activity at the park beginning on Monday, June 24. Those encamped in the public space were notified on Friday, June 21.

Temporary fencing will be added to the north and south of the playground from Christina Street to the CN Rail fence line. Temporary lighting will also be installed at all four corners of the park and the playground.

"We're hoping to install it relatively quickly so you'll likely see these changes within the next week," Henschel said.

In order to address sanitation concerns, washrooms (sinks included) will be deployed at the southeast corner of the park twice per day between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m.

"These are washrooms on a trailer, they're the type you typically see at a large-scale event," Henschel said. "We're dealing with a third-party contractor to bring those in twice a day. It provides those sanitation facilities for those encamped at the site and addresses some of the sanitation concerns we've heard on-site while mitigating some concerns with, how do we provide security for the bathrooms if they're there 24/7?"

Henschel said given the timeframe, they were not able to source portable showers.

"We'll very much be reviewing how this implementation goes on a daily basis. We're very much expecting some of these measures to evolve," he said. "Council has directed us to take measures so we're proceeding with what we think would be best to address some of the immediate health and safety concerns. After 30 days, we'll be reporting back to council and ultimately, reviewing the entire program then. But it's very likely that some of these measures will evolve over time."

Meanwhile, a dumpster located at the north end of the site will be moved to the southeast corner of the park to better address waste concerns.

Also, two security guard teams will be deployed to patrol the park's perimeter and playground area from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Security will also monitor incoming traffic.

"We're very much looking at addressing the immediate health and safety concerns, both from those inside the park and especially from residents in the nearby area," Henschel said. "We're working with what we have within our toolset and our mandate to address those immediate needs while we look towards a more long-term solution and ultimately how our partners at the county can better address homelessness in the community."

It's unknown at this time how much these measures will cost as Henschel said figures will likely evolve. He said staff will report to council with costs within the next 30 days.

During the June 14 council meeting, city staff were also directed to look for available funding opportunities from senior levels of government and the County of Lambton.

While health and safety measures are implemented at the park, members of Sarnia By-Law Enforcement and the Sarnia Police Service will continue to conduct regular patrols of the site.

Henschel said the by-law team is at the park every day but the number of officers fluctuates depending on the nature of the call and if they are assisting police.

During a recent Sarnia Police Services Board meeting, Police Chief Derek Davis said approximately 30 to 40 people are living at Rainbow Park.

He said they are seeing a significant draw on resources, and are almost up to 400 hours of service at the park, just in the past six weeks.

In early May, the city's provincially mandated community safety and well-being leadership group was tasked with drafting an encampment protocol. No updates have been released since then.

-With files from Melanie Irwin and Lindsay Newman

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