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Environment minister's constituency staff referred people to landlord's private encampment

'Any referrals of people looking for housing to this individual were made in error and without the member’s knowledge,' said Barrie-Innisfil MPP's spokesperson Friday
Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin during a funding announcement at Sandycove Acres April 5.

This article was first published by InnisfilToday, a Village Media publication.

People who reached out for help to find shelter through Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin’s constituency office were directed to an Innisfil landlord who plans to use space on their property as a for-profit homeless encampment, InnisfilToday has learned.

Khanjin, who also serves as Ontario’s minister of the environment, conservation and parks, has steadfastly denied knowledge of the matter.

In a statement Friday morning, ministry press secretary Alex Catherwood said: “Any referrals of people looking for housing to this individual were made in error and without the member’s knowledge. This should not have happened, and appropriate measures will be put in place to ensure this does not happen again.”

The property in question is located on the 25th Sideroad in Innisfil. It first came to InnisfilToday’s attention several weeks ago, through a tip about a posting on Kijiji titled “HELP for people in Homeless Tent encampment Private Property.”

That advertisement was asking for $500, but it didn’t specify whether the amount sought was a flat rate or monthly rent. With that payment came permission for the unsheltered to “set up your tents” on the cottage property.

The site is billed as having a shared kitchen, community fridge, bathroom and hookup to electricity. The description also promotes “job opportunities” and says tenants can walk to the nearby beach.

To apply, prospective tenants must provide their full names, some personal information and confirmation they’re receiving Ontario Works.

Since learning of the advertisement, InnisfilToday has exchanged several messages and attempted on numerous occasions to co-ordinate interviews and site visits with the owner, identified in the post as Amparo Araneta. Araneta cancelled meetings each time, citing medical issues and a long drive from Tobermory — where she says she spends most of her time these days — and did not accept the offer to do a telephone interview.

However, Araneta confirmed Khanjin’s office had messaged about “another lady displaced," whom Araneta planned to take in. 

At a funding announcement in the Sandycove Acres retirement community Friday afternoon, InnisfilToday asked Khanjin how many people were directed by her staff to the property, how long this was happening for, and whether she supports the private encampment concept.

“We’re looking into it,” she said. “I was not aware the team was referring people to (this) establishment. We’re changing practices in the office so that doesn’t happen anymore.”

Following the interview, Khanjin called the matter “unfortunate” as she was walking away.

A Town of Innisfil spokesperson said the municipality was unaware of the pending use for the site, but staff are looking into the matter and could not confirm whether that intended purpose violates municipal bylaws.

However, Barrie Homelessness and Housing Justice Network spokesperson Jennifer van Gennip called the private encampment plan “well-meaning” but “pretty exploitative of people in a very vulnerable position.”

“When renters enter into a lease, both parties have certain rights and protections,” she said. “But in this scenario, people are handing over hundreds of dollars and there is no mechanism to resolve potential conflicts or ensure the space is safe.

"While we support community members helping each other, what we really need from our elected officials are policies that move us toward a realization of housing as a human right with more investments in deeply affordable housing so everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home," said van Gennip.

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