The City of Wetaskiwin has installed two cattle shelters in hopes of curbing the homeless problem in the south end of the community. The shelters were put up as a place for vulnerable people to get out of the elements, the city said.
“This is not the final solution,” city manager Dave Burgess said. “This is just a stopgap.”
Burgess said homelessness has been a “long-standing challenge for the city” and that people are camping out in bushes and parking lots in the south end. Some of those people are causing problems and emergency services have been called several times, according to officials. Burgess called it a “merry-go-round” of people being put into jail cells and then released back into the same area.
Since the shelters have been added, city staff said RCMP have reported significantly lower call volumes.
Burgess and a group of city staff came up with the plan to use the livestock shelters, which the city already had and was previously using at outdoor skating rinks.
They’re now sitting in an open field away from businesses and private property.
After five weeks in use, the site was covered in mud, blankets and garbage.
“It’s not anything pristine. It’s not anything fancy,” Burgess said, adding city staff have been delivering bottled water and hope to add a port-a-potty in the field.
One man, who is a resident of the area and uses the site, didn’t want to be identified but said the site has been used as a place to gather and drink. He added many people using the shelters aren’t homeless.
Residents Global News spoke to said they are happy the city is doing something to help, even though the optics of the shelters aren’t great.
“It’s not the greatest solution,” Janet Macnevin said. “But at least it’s something.”
Macnevin added she often sees vulnerable people staying a nearby bush where there’s no shelter from the elements.
“They’re human, you have to help them out,” she said.
Burgess said the shelters have received mixed reviews.
“One question we always put to people who have strong criticism is, ‘What is their solution?'” he said.
The City of Wetaskiwin has partnered with community groups and is currently seeking funding for more permanent solutions including emergency shelter spaces.
“The worst criticism that I would ever have is that we do nothing,” Burgess said. “That has been the option taken for so so long. We don’t want to see that continue.”
No final decision has been made on how long the shelters will stay in the field, but Burgess believes the shelters will be removed for the winter months.