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Homeless camps set up in downtown Edmonton raise questions over safe spaces for less fortunate

WATCH ABOVE: With dozens of tents lining some streets in downtown Edmonton, advocates are asking officials to hold off on evicting the homeless. Sarah Ryan reports.

With dozens of tents lining the streets of Edmonton’s inner city, advocates are asking officials to hold off on evicting the homeless.

“We’ve seen it, over the last few weeks, really build up,” explained the Bissell Centre’s Scarlet Bjornson.

“Many of the people here don’t have anywhere else to go. Their camps have been cleaned up and cleared up in the river valley or other areas of the city.”

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Recently, camps are growing near social supports including the Bissell, Hope Mission and Boyle Street.

READ MORE: New stats show increase in Edmonton homeless camps

“People are camped outside the Bissell because they have a connection to things like washrooms, meals, showers, laundry,” explained Shanell Twan with AAWEAR (Alberta Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly).

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Twan was walking through the tents handing out black garbage bags on Friday afternoon.

Dareion Caesar is currently living in a shelter. He says having access to social services is key.

“There’s programs that can help you build you life back up, you know what I mean? If you’re willing to get help, the help is here for you,” Caesar said.

Bjornson said there’s misconceptions about the homeless as well.

“Nobody wants to live here,” she said. “Nobody wants this to be their everyday reality and they want to find solutions to move out of that. And we need to be working with them and not just telling them how it is.”

She said the Bissell Centre was told that the tenters were going to be evicted from the surrounding area by next Thursday.

Rocky Hill, a volunteer in a kitchen that serves the homeless, said that won’t be easy.

“It’s pretty sad, they’re going to kick people out of there. I mean, where are they going to go?”

He said it’s especially concerning with winter coming.

“I always pray for these people. I’ve been there,” he said.

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Perissa Peyactw has been living in tents for three-and-a-half years.

“I can’t afford a place on my own with the rent,” she said.

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Peyactw added that she has been forced to move too many times.

“I just will go back to the bike trail, and then back here, and back there. Until they get it, you know what I mean?”

Peyactw isn’t alone in bouncing from one tent site to another, explained Twan. She calls it a waste of taxpayer resources.

“It’s kind of futile when we’re shuffling people along week after week, when they’re chasing people from one camping spot to another.”

Staff at the Bissell Centre have asked officials for an extension on the eviction notice.

“The most important thing for us is to build the relationships with them so they know they can come to us for housing and those supports are available to them. Once this is cleared out, we run the risk of actually losing that relationship,” Bjornson explained.

In a statement, the City of Edmonton said it is monitoring the situation.

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“Our priority is public and individual safety. We will continue to work with our partners to connect individuals to support and services,” it read.

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“We are working with the individuals to connect them to housing, but there is not enough affordable housing supply to meet the need. Edmonton desperately needs 900 new units of permanent supportive housing in the next six years for individuals with complex needs. We are actively working with the province and the federal government on a plan with respect to this critical housing need.”

READ MORE: Eventual solution to Edmonton’s homelessness issue will come through zoning: McKeen

That, however, is a long-term solution. These tenters need help now, says Hill.

He believes a tent-friendly spot in the city may be a good Band-Aid solution.

“They should have a place for them to store their stuff. A place for them to call home, to put their tents up without worrying about someone coming and throwing it in a truck and hauling it off to the dump.”

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