Representatives of a homeless camp in Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park in Edmonton say they’ve been told everyone must vacate the area by Friday.
Organizers of Peace Camp, which is located north of Whyte Avenue in Old Strathcona, say they’ve been told by the city that tents and structures must be taken down by 10 a.m. and everyone must leave the site by 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18.
“We don’t intend to do that,” spokesperson Cameron Noyes said on Thursday.
“We want to kind of stand our ground and that’s part of the point of this.
“We did know eventually the city was going to take exception to this. It happened a little sooner than we hoped but it happened a little later than we expected. This isn’t a surprise to us and now we’ve got to stand our ground.”
Noyes said the group had a phone meeting with city officials on Monday and was given a heads-up they’d be asked to leave the park this week.
Noyes said if the group is forced to leave Wilbert McIntyre Park, they’ll relocate somewhere close.
“We want to stay around here. We want to stay visible,” he said.
“These people are from here and that’s a big thing when people are asked to move to Hope Mission across the river. That’s a different scene,” Noyes said. “The people around here — our unhoused family — are a community.”
“The pressure from the camps on this issue and the tension around it — not just in Edmonton but across the country — has raised the issue of the long-standing justice that a country as wealthy as this leaves people out on the streets,” Mayor Don Iveson said Thursday.
He admitted all orders of government are under immense financial pressure but long-term sustainable housing options remain a top priority in Edmonton. The city is looking for vacant buildings to house people, he added.
“I think there is growing will in a time of pandemic, in a time of economic insecurity and at a time when there’s some opportunity to acquire some units, and the federal government seems prepared to consider it, to end this situation.”
On Wednesday, the group shared a list of demands, including a supervised consumption site in Old Strathcona, a LGBT-friendly overnight shelter and access to housing and social services on site at Peace Camp.
“Safe consumption is a big one,” Noyes said. “We don’t have one in this neighbourhood. We need it. It saves lives.
“Beyond the housing, we need to get these people safe one way or another,” he said. “We want to house them in homes.”
The list was sent to the mayor, as well as the provincial and federal governments.
“As with any protest, the demands are important for elected officials to hear because they’re part of the broader context of what all our public is demanding,” Iveson said.
“But that doesn’t mean we must act on demands; that’s not how democracy works. We have an obligation to listen to all voices’ perspectives and suggestions but we also have other duties to public good, public health, public safety and we have to work through all of that to try to find a just and equitable and practical solution.
“The challenge of homelessness, [which] we have articulated for more than a decade now, has a fairly straightforward and evidence-based solution, which is Housing First.
“We are very good at Housing First,” the mayor said. “What we need more of is the housing. That has always been the shortage. Ten years ago we said we needed 1,000 units of supportive housing. Over that time, a couple hundred have been built,” Iveson said.
“The city believes so strongly in this that we’re building a couple hundred more with the eight cents of your tax dollar that we have, notwithstanding that it’s not our principal jurisdiction and notwithstanding that the savings to this will accrue primarily to provinces and federal governments in their jurisdiction around health and justice, which I have said countless times.”
This is the second encampment to emerge in Edmonton this summer. The first is Camp Pekiwewin in Rossdale, near RE/MAX Field.
During his presentation to the committee, interim city manager Adam Laughlin said city officials recently met with organizers of Camp Pekiwewin to speak about their list of demands. They are working to find “lasting solutions” to end homelessness.
He said the city sees the need to protect the safety of those living in the camps.
Police confirmed there was an assault with a machete near the camp at 83 Avenue and Gateway Boulevard on Sept. 13. The injured man ran to the encampment for help, EMS and EPS responded and took him to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. A suspect has been identified and warrants issued for their arrest. Police said it appears the victim and suspect know each other.
Laughlin told councillors organizers of Peace Camp in Old Strathcona have said the encampment is temporary and that they would provide the city with a closure date but have not yet done that.
He said the city has decided on an end date of Sept. 18. Peace officers will be on site Friday to help with a “dignified” closure, which the city is committed to, Laughlin said.
The city has always stressed its preferred approach to homelessness is the Housing First model with social, mental health and addictions supports.
“That may not answer every demand from every camp across the country, but I think it would get at the root issue that unites most of the camps, which is a sense of deep injustice that people aren’t getting the supports they need,” Iveson reiterated Thursday. “And not just the shelter, but most of the other demands cover the wrap-around supports that would be necessary for people to re-enter society and draw less from society which again, will save us money, reduce social disorder. It’s a win-win-win-win-win.
“Edmonton is not alone in dealing with camps with a variety of different demands, but in talking to other mayors, the common theme is people are demanding housing because we all know they deserve housing and it’s time to give it to them.”
At the end of August, Iveson put forward a plan to end homelessness over a 10-week period — before winter.