A homeless encampment in Old Strathcona will be closing voluntarily before Oct. 18, organizers say.
In a message to Global News, organizers of the Old Strathcona Peace Camp for the Unhoused say the decision was made on Oct. 11.
“The closure will occur over the next seven days to ensure that the transition will have the least possible negative emotional, physical and logistical impact on the campers and organizers,” organizer Cameron Noyes said.
Noyes said there are many reasons the camp is going to close, but there are three main ones.
First, Noyes said the camp was started to provide housing for those in need, but Noyes said time spent focused on the camp distracts from the work of supporting those in need effectively.
“Although some housing organizations have come to the site we have seen very little in the way of housing from them,” Noyes said. “The best results we’ve had during our time at camp have been via our organizers who have been working to help transition people.”
Second, the strain of supporting more than 100 unhoused people has put a mental and physical strain on many of the on-site volunteers and organizers, Noyes said.
“These volunteers have been largely carrying the costs of supporting well over 100 unhoused people and it is an incredible strain without a real commitment of support from agencies or the city.”
Finally, organizers say there have been several incidents of apparent drug overdoses in the camp. While organizers have been able to save people with naloxone and chest compressions, the camp claims it has asked the city “repeatedly” to provide fentanyl test kits and haven’t received any.
“Without those, someone will most certainly die,” Noyes said.
“[In] this current situation, being without test kits is like playing baseball blindfolded.”
In a statement to Global News, the City of Edmonton didn’t address whether the encampment has asked for fentanyl test kits or whether the city has provided any.
Instead, the city said the health and safety of the people in the camp continues to be its “top priority.”
“Neither shelters nor camps are the best long term solution for homelessness,” the statement read. “What needs to be in place is permanent housing with support and treatment available for those who are suffering from addictions, mental health issues and historical trauma.”
On Sept 21, the federal government announced a plan to spend $1 billion over the next six months so cities and housing providers can buy properties being sold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The camp was set up in early September after a similar camp was erected in the Rossdale neighbourhood. The Strathcona encampment was originally in Wilbert McIntyre Park on 83 Avenue and 104 Street, but moved at the end of September.
On Sept. 21, the City of Edmonton said it expected a “peaceful and voluntary closure” of the park by Sept. 28. On Sept. 27, the camp moved from that park to Light Horse Park, a few blocks north.