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City, police dismantle homeless encampment northeast of downtown Edmonton

Click to play video: 'Edmonton’s 4th encampment dismantling leaves future of homeless in question'
Edmonton’s 4th encampment dismantling leaves future of homeless in question
Edmonton police and cleanup crews began shutting down and dismantling a 4th homeless camp - this one on 105 Avenue and 96 Street near the Bissell Centre in the city's core. As Slav Kornik explains, advocates say there is no suitable alternative to those already living on the streets – Jan 3, 2024

One day after the third of what police say are eight “high-risk” homeless encampments in Edmonton was dismantled, the city and police began removing another camp just northeast of the downtown core.

The Edmonton Police Service said work to dismantle an encampment in the area of 105A Avenue and 96th Street began Wednesday morning.

A garbage truck was parked at the scene and crews could be seen working to remove items from the area.

The Edmonton Police Service said work to dismantle an encampment in the area of 105th Avenue and 96th Street was set to begin Wednesday morning. Global News

A number of people came to watch crews dismantle the camp and to call for more to be done to help homeless Edmontonians.

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Nadine Chalifoux, the chair of the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, said she wants Edmontonians to witness the camp removals because she wants people to know “how inhumane this is.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, noting that the people being forced to leave may not end up in shelters because of capacity issues or because of concerns about safety there or whether they can bring pets if they have them.

“It’s going to be -19 C next week. And now you’re telling them they can’t even take half this stuff with them … tarps, blankets.”

The Edmonton Police Service said work to dismantle an encampment in the area of 105th Avenue and 96th Street was set to begin Wednesday morning. Global News

Jordan Morgan is an advocate for homeless Edmontonians and a volunteer for Water Warriors, an Indigenous-run street outreach team. He was also at the encampment to witness its removal on Wednesday.

Morgan said he believes the camp removals are not a viable solution to the problem and new camps will just be set up elsewhere as part of a vicious cycle.

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“They’re a community … living together. … They’re all sharing and contributing to each other’s cause. Now you’re dispersing them across the city — how are they going to fend for themselves?”

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin was also at the site Wednesday to “bear witness” to the event.

“It’s been heartbreaking,” the NDP housing critic said. “These folks who are being cleared, they’re my constituents.

“They may not have roofs over their heads but they matter and having a home matters.”

The Edmonton Police Service said work to dismantle an encampment in the area of 105th Avenue and 96th Street was set to begin Wednesday morning. Global News

While the provincial UCP government has invested in shelter space and taken other steps to address the crisis, Irwin said she believes the government needs to invest much more in affordable and social housing.

She also said the idea of repurposing hotels and motels to help provide shelter is one that needs to be explored again.

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“I don’t want to see more of my constituents die on the streets,” Irwin said, noting cold weather is coming to Edmonton soon. “I fear that’s going to happen.”

A statement issued to Global News by the office of Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon on Wednesday said the province is investing $9 billion with its partners to build 25,000 more affordable housing units by 2031 — “an increase of more than 40 per cent.”

“We also recognize that housing linked with supports is an integral part of the overall response to homelessness and we are actively taking steps to ensure help is there for those who need it. That is why Budget 2023 provides $41 million to Homeward Trust Edmonton for programs aimed at moving people out of homelessness and into housing with supports.”

In a statement issued last week, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the city’s top priority is the safety of unhoused people and the surrounding community.

“We know that encampments are not a safe situation for vulnerable people, and long-term solutions like permanent supportive housing and more affordable housing are necessary to tackle houselessness,” he said, adding that the city manager has been asked to evaluate ways Edmonton can update its encampment response process, “including enhanced engagement with the social sector partners and Indigenous organizations.”

Click to play video: '4th high-risk Edmonton homeless encampment dismantled near Bissell Centre'
4th high-risk Edmonton homeless encampment dismantled near Bissell Centre

“Our partners shared that they were seeking more transparency and participation in the planning process especially for high-risk encampments, a co-ordinated communication response and better data co-ordination.”

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A statement issued by the provincial government on Dec. 15 said it has provided funding for 1,700 shelter spaces and that it anticipates Edmonton’s emergency shelter capacity would grow from 1,388 to 1,510 by the end of 2023 and to 1,700 spaces “early in the new year.”

Police Chief Dale McFee and other officials in the city have described many of Edmonton’s homeless camps as dangerous places because of concerns regarding fires, health, drugs and crime.

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

Late last year, police identified eight “high-risk encampments for removal, but 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.

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While the injunction has been extended until the application for a lawsuit against the city’s encampment response is heard on Jan. 11, a judge ruled that the city and police are still allowed to remove high-risk encampments as long as a number of conditions are met, including that officials ensure there is enough shelter space available to accommodate those being forced to leave.

In a news release issued Wednesday afternoon, the City of Edmonton said it “ensured full compliance with its obligations under the interim order, including providing advance notice to social agencies.”

The city said the camp that was being cleared on Wednesday had 12 inhabitants, one of whom was given medical aid. In total, the city said crews removed about “six truckloads of waste,” equivalent to about 1,200 kilograms, and another 4,900 kilograms of waste by “using a compactor.”

The city said the cleanup efforts resulted in crews finding 330 needles, 36 propane tanks and 17 shopping carts.

“REACH 24/7 Crisis Diversion Teams were on site to provide transport and support as needed,” the city said.

On Tuesday, the city said more than 200 spaces remain available at Edmonton shelter locations. Chalifoux and Morgan disputed the city’s claim and said they are hearing there is no shelter space left.

Chalifoux added that she does not believe emergency shelters are the answer to the problem anyway.

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“They’re not even a very good Band-Aid because people go there for an overnight stay, but in the morning they’re kicked back out onto the street with nowhere else to go,” she said. “So they have to stay warm.

“This is a crisis across the world and we need to have specific actions that we’re putting money into.”

In its statement on Wednesday, Nixon’s office said “shelters in Edmonton are currently under-capacity and not turning people away.”

“Our department watches shelter utilization numbers on a daily basis and if capacity becomes an issue, our government would take immediate action to make sure people are not turned away.”

Both Morgan and Chalifoux called for more money to be invested into affordable and supportive housing and for more funding for social workers and street outreach efforts.
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 Global News’ Karen Bartko and Emily Mertz

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