With winter weather on Edmonton’s doorstep, some of the city’s homeless are desperate to find housing, not wanting to spend another winter on the streets.
“I spent last winter downtown and then we got kicked out of a tent and from there I went to that side of the river for the rest of the year,” said Shane, who asked his last name not be published.
Shane has spent the past couple of months living in camps in Edmonton’s River Valley. He lived with a friend for a bit in the spring, but said it didn’t work out.
After spending last winter in the elements, he hopes he can find shelter soon.
“We stayed in a tent, it was -25 C, three of us,” he said. “I don’t want to spend another winter (outside). No. My feet, my back, it’ll kill me.”
Shane was in the process of moving out of an encampment in the river valley on Wednesday. He said park rangers came by a few days ago, asked them to collect their items and move along. The problem is, he doesn’t have anywhere to go.
“If they kick us out of here, we move to another spot,” he said. “We can fly under the radar for another month until they catch us and we move again.”
So far this year, the City of Edmonton has dismantled 1,690 homeless camps. The city said it only comes in to clean up once camps have been vacated.
“We find a fair bit of litter and other debris, furniture and on occasion we do find needles,” said Travis Kennedy, management supervisor of Parks Operations with the City of Edmonton.
While it is illegal to camp in the river valley and public parks, the city said it is not in the business of handing out tickets.
“Almost never is a fine issued,” Kennedy said. “If we do find illegal activity occurring then we will pursue that differently. But if it’s simply a camper looking for shelter in the valley, we’re not looking to charge these folks.
“We work with groups to find campers solutions, but at a certain point we do need to clean the river valley and protect it from any potential hazards.”
The city works with organizations like the Boyle Street Community Services’ street outreach team in order to connect those on the streets with supports they need, including housing.
Doug Cooke has worked with the street outreach for more than two years and said they’ve come across hundreds of people “living rough” this year, which means they’re living outside under tarps or tents. Finding suitable housing for people takes time, though, Cooke said.
“There are still people living rough outside throughout the winter and an important part of our job is to make sure they’re taken care of. If they’re wanting to get out of the river valley, then we will do what we can to assist them,” he said.
“Unfortunately, a week or two isn’t a lot of time to get somebody from their tent to an accommodation.”
Shane has connected with outreach workers and is on a waiting list for housing.
REACH Edmonton is another organization aimed at supporting those experiencing homelessness to get them on the path towards safe housing.