Skip to content

No easy answers at Rainbow Park: PART II

Neighbours say they shouldn’t have to live with encampment
Area resident Kim Gawdunyk took his frustration to city council earlier this month.

Some might dismiss Kim Gawdunyk’s attitude as NIMBYism, but it’s not that black and white.

He’s also got a lot of empathy for the homeless in his neighbourhood and is leading the charge to house them.

Gawdunyk gets fired up when he talks about losing Rainbow Park to a growing homeless encampment. 

An estimated 50 people live in a collection of about 25 tents along the park fence overlooking the St. Clair River. Glenn Ogilvie photo

“There’s yelling at all hours of the night, feces everywhere, needles, toilet paper. I can’t even keep my blinds open because I don’t want my kids to see someone walking by with their pants around their ankles,” he said.

Gawdunyk took his frustration to city council earlier this month and council agreed to seek legal advice to determine if the encampment can be moved out of Rainbow Park. 

He said he’s not the only one in his south end neighbourhood who refuses to let their children play there anymore. 

“It’s not just my family. There are a lot of families who live here and feel just like I do,” he said. “The encampment gets bigger by the day and no one cares because this is the south end. "Do you think this would still be here if it was Canatara Park?"

“Do you think this would still be here if it was Canatara Park?”

He sounds angry but Gawdunyk has compassion for the homeless as well. He’s helped a few over the years, handing out clothing, even putting one young fellow up in a local hotel.

And Gawdunyk, a pipefitter who has lived near Rainbow Park for 19 years, has been working on a solution that he intends to take back to city council. He’s developed blueprints with the help of a local hardware store for tiny homes measuring 8 feet X 12 feet. He estimates they would cost about $5,000 each to build if the city would provide property “someplace where it doesn’t impact a residential area.”

He’s willing to donate $5,000 himself for one tiny home and is hoping other tradespeople would contribute skills or money to build more.

“Rainbow Park is a beautiful, seven-acre, waterfront park and we want to use it again. The whole neighbourhood is appalled with what’s being allowed to happen,” said Gawdunyk.

Helen Taylor is a 91-year-old resident living in the Village on the St. Clair. It’s a retirement facility immediately north of Rainbow Park where Taylor said many people are concerned about the encampment.

Helen Taylor, 91. Glenn Ogilvie photo

“We lock our bedroom doors at night,” she said, as she manoeuvered her walker along the sidewalk. “We need to get them out of here because we feel a little bit unsafe.”

Sarnia Police Sgt. Steve Ruetz said he understands the concerns of Taylor, Gawdunyk and other Rainbow Park neighbours. An alternative location for the homeless would be ideal, he said.

But he doesn’t know where that would be.

He is the sergeant in charge of Sarnia’s IMPACT (Integrated Mobile Police & Community Team) dedicated to working with Sarnia’s homeless population.

“It’s not a police issue; it’s not a bylaw issue; it’s a societal issue,” Ruetz said. “And we are caught in the middle. I agree with the residents that they should be able to go to the park without worrying, but the people in the park need help as well.”

A homeless encampment at Sarnia's Rainbow Park is rapidly increasing in size. Glenn Ogilvie photo

He flatly denies any suggestion made by people living in the park that police or other authorities suggested they locate there.

“Our goal is to help them find a shelter bed or refer them to services that can help,” he said. “Our IMPACT team tries to find detox beds, for instance, and we’ve had some success with that.”

Police calls to Rainbow Park are not all that frequent, Ruetz added. IMPACT members are there a couple of times a week to “check in.”

Otherwise, the majority of calls tend to be about noise complaints, fights and other disturbances. “It is serious when the folks living around there are disturbed, but we’ve only had two arrests in the last couple of weeks,” Ruetz said.

A grow tent presumably used as a port-a-potty. Glenn Ogilvie photo

He said he is concerned that the population living in the park will increase significantly as the warm weather arrives.

“I know a lot of them feel more comfortable in the park but crime could sky rocket when they are all in the same place.

“We are all in an awkward position. These folks need a lot of help with basic living skills. I don’t know what the solution is in the short-term.”

In the long-term, he said he hopes Sarnia will have more affordable housing with in-house supports like counsellors and services to keep people housed despite mental health and addictions.

Read Part I: No easy answers at Rainbow Park

[email protected]

Join the Community: Receive Our Daily News Email for Free