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No easy answers at Rainbow Park: PART I

Park inhabitants say their options have run out
Molly Beauchamp, at Rainbow Park.

Molly Beauchamp knows she’s in trouble.

She’s lived on the streets in Sarnia for 10 years and says she has a myriad of mental health and drug issues that make her life hell.

Three weeks ago, she began living in a tent in Rainbow Park where a homeless encampment is rapidly increasing in size despite objections from the neighbours.

An estimated 50 people live in a collection of about 25 tents along the park fence overlooking the St. Clair River. Two weeks ago, it was half that size.

Tents set up along the fence at Rainbow Park. Glenn Ogilvie photo

Beauchamp, 29, openly admits she needs help and said she wound up in Rainbow Park after a winter of being shuffled from place to place by authorities.

“I’ve been everywhere,” she said. “I lived at a motel and got told I had to leave without notice because that program was over. I can’t afford a place to live so I was down behind the library for a while.”

Several months ago, authorities cleared all tents from Veterans Park next to Sarnia library. Beauchamp said if city council decides the Rainbow Park encampment must move, she’ll be truly lost.

“We’re screwed if we get kicked out of here.”

“This is serious,” she said. “I can’t conform. I’m not stable at all. A lot of us here are dysfunctional but we have each other here and the outreach people drop off food, water, smokes, even Tim Horton’s.

“We’re screwed if we get kicked out of here.”

Her friend Hayley Letourneau, 32, also lives in Rainbow Park. Like Beauchamp, she admits to using drugs.

Hayley Letourneau. Glenn Ogilvie photo

“But we don’t do it out in the open. No one sees it,” she said. Violence is minimal in the park, said Letourneau.

“I don’t feel all that safe on the street but being here feels safer,” she said. “I don’t mind it down here, but they need washrooms.

“I feel like the neighbours are judging us, just stereotyping us. This really is a place where we help each other.”

Molly Beauchamp, left and Hayley Letourneau. Glenn Ogilvie photo

At city council’s April 8 meeting, a Rainbow Park neighbour said he’s fed up with the condition of the former children’s park where playground equipment sits idle and the tents are multiplying by the week.

Council decided to seek legal counsel and said a decision may be made May 6 about what to do with the encampment. 

If it is cleared out by authorities, Monique Major and Chris Walters say they have “no clue” where they will go.

Chris Walters and Monique Major. Glenn Ogilvie photo

The couple has made due for years, mostly living on the streets. They have been in a 12-year relationship but it’s often volatile. Major recently spent a month in jail for hitting Walters over the head with a plank.  It wasn’t deliberate, she said, standing outside their tent in her bathrobe. He said he’s forgiven her.

They say they were the first to set up a tent in Rainbow Park in January.

“The police suggested we could come here and we’d be left alone,” Major said. A Sarnia Police official responded to Major’s comments and said police in no way suggested anyone should pitch a tent in Rainbow Park.

“I say give us a campground,” said Walters. “That way we can have fire (pits) and it wouldn’t bother anybody.”

 As they talk, a car drives into the park. It’s filled with toilet paper, food and water bottles.

A couple jumps out and starts going tent to tent, asking if anyone wants anything.

Wendy and Rick Robinson. Glenn Ogilvie photo

They are Wendy and Rick Robinson from Courtright and among several volunteers who visit regularly to distribute donations.

Rick was homeless years ago and said he understands that people need help “big time” and he wants to be part of the solution.

“Here’s the problem,” he said. “These people have nowhere else to go. Unless you come up with a solution, all you’re doing is creating a bigger problem by moving them out.”

Rick Robinson hands out items at Rainbow Park. Glenn Ogilvie photo
Wendy Robinson handing out necessities. Glenn Ogilvie photo

He said the encampment “desperately” needs port-o-potties and containers to store sharps safely.

“I don’t believe the homeless are going to hassle people but I get that the neighbours don’t want them here,” Rick said.

“Don’t just put a Band-Aid on it by moving them,” said his wife Wendy. “You can’t just rip their tents down and make them angry. You are no farther ahead.”

Sheila Waters is also in the park walking her dogs and searching for someone who could use a tent and other provisions. She too wants to help.

Sheila Waters and her dogs Sadie and Lulu. Glenn Ogilvie photo

“I live on Lakeshore. I am very lucky and I know it,” said the retired social worker. “The city has to do something because this is no longer a children’s park and the homeless have gravitated here.

“But you have to remember we are all human beings. You either have to leave the encampment here or find another piece of property.

“Our society has changed and we have to change how we do things.”

READ MORE: No easy answers at Rainbow Park (Part II)


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