You can’t feed and clothe the homeless without a permit, the City of Oshawa is telling a group of community volunteers.
The Ontario city’s bylaw enforcement division is threatening to fine organizers if they proceed with their “Christmas Stockings for the Homeless” event planned for Sunday afternoon at the city’s downtown Memorial Park.
The event is hosted by Communities for Freedom, a loose association of friends who met during the Freedom Convoy and wanted to “rebuild” their community.
On Sunday, they planned to distribute socks, underwear, feminine hygiene products and toiletries to upwards of fifty homeless people and provide a free turkey lunch with juice and hot chocolate.
A city bylaw enforcement officer emailed organizer Ashley Wickett Thursday afternoon to warn that the city “may issue Administrative Monetary Penalties to any or all individuals involved in the organizing of the event or distribution.”
The officer cited Oshawa’s parks and facilities bylaw, which prohibits holding a public gathering in a park without a permit and selling or distributing goods in a park.
Nowhere in the email did the officer offer any guidance on how to bring the event into compliance with municipal bylaws. Wickett said she felt “bullied” into getting a permit, which she didn’t think would be required for what she was planning.
“I didn’t feel like they were reaching out to me to let me know how they could help or what I could do differently,” she said.
“I can understand if I was going and putting structures up and selling things and whatnot, that a permit would be needed for such events. I’m just trying to dedicate a little bit of my time to help a few people out.”
Instead of gathering in the park as originally planned, Wickett said she would distribute the stockings from her car and advise other Communities for Freedom volunteers to stay out of the park.
Wickett shared this with the City of Oshawa thinking it would assuage their concerns. Instead, she was told this plan violated Oshawa’s highway vending bylaw.
“At this time you may not proceed with your proposed event,” the subsequent email from a bylaw enforcer said. “If you wish to contribute to the less fortunate, particularly around this time of year, there are a number of established charities and shelters in the area who would no doubt benefit from your compassion and initiative.”
Wickett said she promised the homeless she would be there and plans to make good on it. Despite the warning from the City of Oshawa, volunteers will walk around and distribute the stockings by hand.
Wickett said she doesn’t think they’ll be able to set up a table to serve hot chocolate anymore, however.
Wickett, a single mother of two, wondered if the city might have taken issue with the word “freedom” in her group’s name, but insists there is nothing political about the group’s efforts to feed and clothe the homeless.
“Everybody has been through so much these past few years. I know in Oshawa… it’s getting worse, and everywhere I look there’s someone that needs help. So I just wanted to get out there and do what I can and give back for the holidays,” she said.
“It’s about rebuilding. It’s about becoming a community again. We need to come together again and rebuild.”
The City of Oshawa’s head of bylaw enforcement did not respond to a request for comment from True North by deadline.