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Heat is just one more challenge, say Rainbow Park inhabitants in Sarnia

“The world makes us feel like we’re nothing but there are so many good people here.”
Harvey Young at Rainbow Park.

Harvey Young holds out both arms to expose the nasty heat rash that’s developed since the start of this week’s oppressively hot temperatures.

“It’s nothing,” says the 56-year-old who has lived in the Rainbow Park encampment since the winter.

“The heat isn’t so bad. I’ve worked in heat all my life and I know I’m allergic to my own sweat,” Young said. “If I could find an (apartment) I can afford, I’d be there already.”

He and his long time partner, Ruth-Ann Lumley, don’t let something like a few really hot days bother them.

“I’m a line cook by trade. I’m okay with the heat,” said Lumley sitting by the door of her tent. She said she doesn’t work now and takes medication for her mental health. 

Ruth-Ann Lumley sits inside a tent at Rainbow Park this week. Glenn Ogilvie photo

The last week of scorching temperatures that frequently hit 35 C (95 F) has created hardship for the 50 or so inhabitants of Sarnia’s tent city. But those who spoke to The Journal Thursday said the heat is nothing compared to their day-to-day struggle to eat, avoid theft, and find a little bit of peace in a chaotic situation.

It’s tough to sleep at night because of the heat, they said. But that has not motivated any of them to find a bed in an air conditioned shelter.

Instead, they walk a few blocks each day to get a meal at The Inn of the Good Shepherd. The city’s largest shelter also offers washroom facilities and air conditioning.

In the evening and at night, the extreme temperatures make it challenging, said 31-year-old Bobbi-Joe Joseph. She arrived at the encampment just as the heat came on a week ago.

“I don’t want to go to a shelter because I don’t trust very easily,” said Joseph. She said she was “kicked out” of a local rehab program and arrived at the park because she has family living there.

Bobbi-Joe Joesph. Glenn Ogilvie photo

“Not blood family but my kid’s father and his mom. It’s manageable here because we do what we can to help each other,” she said.

“The world makes us feel like we’re nothing but there are so many good people here,” Joseph said.

One neighbour living by Rainbow Park has arrived two to three times a day during the heat wave to distribute cold water, popsicles and even frozen wet cloths that Joseph wraps around her neck for temporary relief.

Sarnia Police Services Constables Danielle Johnson and Bradan MacKenzie patrol Rainbow Park. Glenn Ogilvie photo

“The lady that brings those is an angel. She really cares about us. But she’s in a feud with another neighbour who is trying to get rid of us,” said Joseph. 

The encampment at Rainbow Park has slowly grown in recent weeks.  A line of tents now stretches all the way from the north to the south end. 

Randy Joyce says he moved his tent away from the main population, trying to find a cooler location under a couple of shade trees at the south end.

He had more privacy for a few days but now there are four or five other campers set up near him.

Randy Joyce. Glenn Ogilvie photo

“The heat isn’t so good but we get water and popsicles dropped off to us and paramedics stop by quite a bit to make sure everyone is hydrated,” said Joyce. He said he worked as an ironworker for 25 years before falling behind on his union dues, couldn’t work and lost a three-bedroom house in Corunna.

Alcohol has been his main problem, he said.

Sometimes it is unbearably hot inside his tent. The only relief is a small breeze that intermittently blows off the St. Clair River. But it’s better than a shelter where theft is a big concern, Joyce said.

The encampment at Rainbow Park has slowly grown in recent weeks. Glenn Ogilvie photo

County workers have been at Rainbow Park frequently in the last few days, according to Joseph.

They hand out a list of cooling centres, which includes the Inn of the Good Shepherd, the downtown library and a resource centre at the corner of Exmouth and Melrose Street. Transportation to the cooling centres is available to Rainbow Park inhabitants if they want it, says Ian Hanney, Lambton County’s supervisor for homelessness prevention and social planning.

Outreach workers are often in the park with an increased supply of Gatorade, Freezies and water, he said.

Last week, city council authorized Sarnia’s CAO Chris Carter to implement temporary measures in Rainbow Park “including, but not limited to fencing, sanitation, lighting and security measures until further legal options become available.”

Garbage bags lined up at Rainbow Park this week. Glenn Ogilvie photo

Park residents said that new garbage cans were delivered to the park since then but no other changes have taken place.

City hall spokesperson Steve Henschel said Thursday that a press release will be issued today (Friday) detailing what amenities the city will be providing to Rainbow Park, and when. 

A lack of washrooms there has been discussed at both city council and county council. Currently, there are no washrooms, only a pop up toilet tent that one of the campers erected.

“Most of us go to the (downtown) library to use the washroom,” said Lumley.  “I just go in and leave quietly and it’s okay.

“And it means I can get out of the heat for a few minutes.”


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