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Organizers of Old Strathcona encampment given Friday deadline to leave

Click to play video 'Old Strathcona ‘Peace Camp’ given Friday deadline to pack up and leave' Old Strathcona ‘Peace Camp’ given Friday deadline to pack up and leave
Residents of the "Peace Camp" homeless camp in Old Strathcona have to pack up their tents and be out of the south Edmonton park by 11 a.m. Friday. But as Chris Chacon explains, organizers say they have no intention of leaving and plan to stand their ground.

Representatives of a homeless camp in Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park in Edmonton say they’ve been told everyone must vacate the area by Friday.

Read more: New homeless camp pops up in Old Strathcona as city wants end date for Rossdale’s Camp Pekiwewin

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.”

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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.

A homeless encampment in Wilbert McIntyre Park in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona. Sept. 17, 2020.
A homeless encampment in Wilbert McIntyre Park in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona. Sept. 17, 2020. Global News

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.”

Click to play video 'Edmonton mayor continues to advocate for affordable housing amid COVID-19' Edmonton mayor continues to advocate for affordable housing amid COVID-19
Edmonton mayor continues to advocate for affordable housing amid COVID-19

“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.

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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.”

Read more: Encampment in Old Strathcona shares list of demands, including LGBT-friendly shelter

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.

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Click to play video 'City of Edmonton still working to move Camp Pekiwewin, Peace Camp residents' City of Edmonton still working to move Camp Pekiwewin, Peace Camp residents
City of Edmonton still working to move Camp Pekiwewin, Peace Camp residents

“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.”

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Click to play video 'Edmonton mayor hears homeless camp demands, says no obligation to meet them' Edmonton mayor hears homeless camp demands, says no obligation to meet them
Edmonton mayor hears homeless camp demands, says no obligation to meet them

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.

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Read more: Tent cities causing growing concerns for some Edmontonians

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.

Click to play video 'Social services as part of supportive housing cheaper in the long run: Iveson' Social services as part of supportive housing cheaper in the long run: Iveson
Social services as part of supportive housing cheaper in the long run: Iveson

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.

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“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.

Iveson said he was requesting federal financial aid to help move people without places to live into bridge or transitional housing.

Read more: Edmonton part of national call to repurpose hotels, motels to address homelessness before winter

“Most urgently, cities across Canada are suggesting that we convert buildings like motels and hotels into permanent supportive housing so that we can better support Canadians experiencing homelessness, including those living with mental illness and substance use disorders,” Iveson said on Sept. 10.“This is a more cost-effective measure than any short-term or temporary shelters, and supports key federal objectives to reach or exceed the national housing strategy’s aim to cut chronic homelessness in half.”
Click to play video 'Iveson calls for immediate action on homelessness from province, Ottawa' Iveson calls for immediate action on homelessness from province, Ottawa
Iveson calls for immediate action on homelessness from province, Ottawa
The mayor also wants the federal government to demand the Alberta government support the initiative.READ MORE: Edmonton budget submission to province documents cost savings through supportive housing“Bring pressure to bear on the provinces to fund within their jurisdiction the support services, which the evidence continually shows will save provincial governments money in their jurisdiction around health and justice,” he said. 
Click to play video '‘People need stable housing’: Iveson on push for federal homeless supports' ‘People need stable housing’: Iveson on push for federal homeless supports
‘People need stable housing’: Iveson on push for federal homeless supports