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London, Ont. man still trying to find permanent spot for Conestoga hut

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A London, Ont. man who’s been living in a Conestoga hut said he finally found a place to park his mobile shelter for the time being.

A vacant lot on Cheapside Street is where Gary Turner has decided to put down roots and hang his hat, at least for the time being.

“This is something that could have an aesthetic curb appeal in the neigbourhood,” he said of his living corners tucked away in the corner of a former retail property. “This is something, I could cover it in moss or ivy and it could look nice. Housing doesn’t have to look like an institutional box that you stick people in. It can be something pretty,” he said.

CTV News first introduced viewers to Turner last month.

He had been living in a Dundas Street parking lot for one year when he was told he could no longer stay. Eventually, he found the Cheapside Street location. He said it appeared to be abandoned, so he set up his Conestoga hut for himself, his pet dog, and pet cat.

“The whole layout of this property, there’s, you know, a water source in the back with a pond. There’s perfect space for community gardens. And it’s almost, like, set up with all those parking spots, perfect for huts,” he explained.

But there’s a wrinkle. According to the city of London, the property is scheduled for demolition.

Kevin Dickens, the deputy city manager of Social and Health Development, said encampments, whether on public of private property, are often unsafe.

“Those environments change all the time,” he explained. “If you’re along the river, and there’s a heavy rainfall, suddenly you’re in a floodplain and that’s not safe. If you’re on a private property in this situation and the building’s scheduled for demolition, that’s an active construction site. That’s no longer safe for that individual either.”

The Cheapside Street property is at the corner of Sterling Street. It’s a residential street with single family homes. Some residents CTV News spoke with are apprehensive about their new neighbour.

“I would rather he wouldn’t be there because I don’t want other people coming, you know,” said one neighbour.

“If he’s being respectful… I think what would bother me more would be if there was a lot of drug use coming this way,” said another neighbour. “That would scare me, with my grandkids.”

In the meantime, Turner said that on Thursday morning he spoke with the owner of the property, who he said granted him permission to stay until the building on the lot is torn down, which won’t be for at least a month.

Living rough, but he said no longer living outside the law.

“I was trying to bring it up to snuff and make it a little prettier so that, you know, my idea is, if I have to leave somewhere, leave it better than I showed up,” said Turner.

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