3rd high-risk Edmonton homeless encampment dismantled in Dawson Ravine

Click to play video: '4th high-risk Edmonton homeless encampment dismantled near Bissell Centre'
4th high-risk Edmonton homeless encampment dismantled near Bissell Centre
A day after a homeless camp was taken down in a ravine near Dawson Park, Edmonton police and cleanup crews began shutting down and dismantling a 4th camp - this one on 105 Avenue and 96 Street near the Bissell Centre in the city's core. Slav Kornik has more on the noon news – Jan 3, 2024

City crews filled more than a dozen truckloads with items and garbage while closing and cleaning up the third of eight high-risk homeless encampments in Edmonton.

On Tuesday, a camp deep in the bushes of the ravine at Dawson Park, below the east end of Jasper Avenue in central Edmonton, was the latest site closed in adherence with an interim court order.

The camp in the North Saskatchewan River valley had 10 structures and seven occupants — one of whom required medical aid, the City of Edmonton said in a news release.

During the cleanup, the city said crews cleared away 14 truckloads of waste (roughly 2,800 kg or 6,100 pounds).

A hundred needles were found, along with 12 shopping carts and 13 propane tanks.

Due to the challenging terrain surrounding this encampment — the steep river bank and bushes — a significant amount of debris remained at the site as of Tuesday afternoon, the city said.

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Crews were expected to continue to remove the items that remained there into the afternoon and evening if need be, so the city said the numbers for waste hauled away could grow.

With the lack of snow and continued dry conditions in Edmonton, the city said the risks of injury and death due to fire remain extremely high.

In 2023, the city said Edmonton Fire Rescue Services responded to 135 fires in encampments resulting in 22 injuries and three people have died.

Click to play video: '2 people found dead after weekend fires at Edmonton homeless encampments'
2 people found dead after weekend fires at Edmonton homeless encampments

Edmonton police say the camps are very dangerous: not just because of the risk of fires and frostbite or cold exposure, but also because criminal organizations are allegedly infiltrating them, increasing social disorder.

Edmonton Police Service chief Dale McFee and homeless advocates say gangs like Redd Alert and ASAP are taking advantage of the homeless population by making them do things like pay taxes “for protection” and recruiting vulnerable people. Drug dealing and usage is also a big concern.

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Click to play video: 'Gangs infiltrating Edmonton homeless encampments, preying on vulnerable'
Gangs infiltrating Edmonton homeless encampments, preying on vulnerable

There have been several assaults, including a stabbing, at encampments this year.

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The Dawson Park site is one of eight high-risk locations identified for removal in December  by police.

However, an emergency court injunction sought by the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights on Dec. 18, 2023, was granted by a judge and briefly postponed the plan.

The injunction was extended until the application for a lawsuit against the city’s encampment response is heard on Jan. 11.

But police are still allowed to remove the eight high-risk encampments as long as officers follow provisions that the police, the city and the CJHR agreed on in court.

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One of the conditions for removing a camp is that officers need to ensure there is enough shelter space available to accommodate those being forced to leave.

Prior to the Dawson Park closure and cleanup, the city said it confirmed with the province that there was sufficient capacity at shelters for the people being forced to leave the encampment site.

There are currently more than 200 spaces available throughout Edmonton’s shelter providers, the city said Tuesday.

Click to play video: 'Vulnerable Edmontonians watching encampment debate closely'
Vulnerable Edmontonians watching encampment debate closely

The city said REACH 24/7 Crisis Diversion Teams were on site to provide support and transportation to shelters, but added not everyone offered a ride chooses to go to a shelter. The city did not say how many of the seven occupants accepted the offer.

Another condition of closing the camps: the residents, as well as social agencies, need to be notified in advance. Those living in the camps need to be given a 48-hour notice.

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The city said Tuesday it ensured full compliance with its obligations under the interim order.

What makes a camp unsafe? The city said an encampment may be assessed as high risk where there is a serious risk of injury or death due to:

  • fire
  • carbon monoxide poisoning
  • drug use
  • gang violence
  • physical violence including weapons
  • public health and/or sanitation risks
  • environmental degradation and/or criminal activity

Camps are also assessed based on their proximity to things like schools and playgrounds, the number of people and structures in the camp, if the location has previously been an encampment site and how long it has been in place.

Three of the eight high-risk encampments police identified have been closed and cleaned: this past weekend, crews also closed and dismantled a large camp by the Herb Jamieson Centre homeless shelter (near 100 Street and 105A Avenue) and a smaller one a few blocks east near the Quasar Bottle Depot at 95 Street and 105 Avenue.

Click to play video: '2nd Edmonton encampment torn down, advocates wonder where vulnerable people will go'
2nd Edmonton encampment torn down, advocates wonder where vulnerable people will go

The city said the remaining sites will be reassessed and notifications provided to occupants and social agencies in accordance with the court orders.

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According to Homeward Trust Edmonton, there were 3,043 people experiencing homelessness as of Dec. 16, 2023.

Of those, 670 are homeless with nowhere to go, 1,743 are provisionally accommodated and 534 are staying in overnight shelters.

— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News

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