Residents in the Rossdale neighbourhood would like to see more done to support those living in a nearby homeless encampment amid a rise in social disorder and crime.
People who live in the central Edmonton neighbourhood say they’ve experienced an increase in theft and other property-related crime in recent months, following the setup of Camp Pekiwewin.
“We’ve personally had stuff taken from our front yard. We had Halloween decorations and those were taken the next night so I know that was disappointing for the kids,” said Leopold McGinnis.
“The people on the corner, they had their patio furniture taken from their side yard. We found a needle on a bench in front of our house at one point.
“Yesterday there were a bunch of bags being lit on fire in the alleyways and they had to call the fire department and police over that. So it’s been escalating in terms of our concern over it.”
The most recent data from the Edmonton Police Service shows there were 307 calls for service at or near the Rossdale encampment between Aug. 4 and Sept. 14, 2020. This is a 113 per cent increase over the same time last year.
The most common reasons police were called were for trouble with people, collision/property damage and suspicious persons.
Between Aug. 4 and Sept. 14, police said six charges were laid for occurrences at or near the Rossdale encampment, but police did not specify what the charges were for.
“It seems to be more and more things happening around the homes and when people are coming onto your property to take things, especially when we have fires — there was a fence on fire — that’s starting to get concerning,” McGinnis said.
“So what’s the next step? What’s being done about it? We’re not seeing a lot of presence with the police either. There’s more drive-throughs for sure but no patrols or bike patrols.”
McGinnis said he doesn’t want to place blame but hopes more can be done to improve communications between area residents and those living in the encampment.
“If they’re going to live in this neighbourhood, then they’re part of the community too. We don’t steal from each other, we don’t vandalize. That’s a problem and the camp itself needs to take ownership of that.”
“I’d like to see the camp do more outreach, do more communication, get involved with us. If you’re going to be there, we need to be working together. We need to understand how we can help,” he said.
McGinnis, and others in the neighbourhood, would also like to see more done by all levels of government to find housing for those living rough.
“There’s a lot of broader social issues with it. These people don’t have places to go,” he said. “There needs to be a place for them to go, some proper social supports.
“You don’t want to be NIMBY – not in my back yard — or ‘put that problem somewhere else.’ There needs to be an actual solution for that and there’s increasingly people who don’t have homes and don’t have places to stay and these people have challenges that they’re facing so we’re sympathetic to that.”
Brian “Breezy” Gregg is another long-time Rossdale resident. He believes the camp is “indicative of our society not properly taking care of the poor people.”
“For years and years and years, it’s a tradition. I think it’s shameful that we can build a giant hockey arena and we can’t have a proper facility looking after people who have substance abuse problems, people who have mental health issue problems, people that — as a modern society — we should be caring for,” he said.
“I’d like all levels of government to be more active and I’d like them to start putting proper funding in the right place to make programs happen, and smart programs.”
The City of Edmonton is in the process of setting up temporary housing for the city’s homeless at the Edmonton Convention Centre. The short-term plan will house those living rough through the spring amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the city said it continues conversations with organizers of Camp Pekiwewin, no end date has been set for the Rossdale encampment.
In a statement Tuesday, the city said the COVID-19 pandemic has made homelessness more visible in Edmonton. Spokesperson Matty Flores said officials are committed to ensuring the safety of all Edmontonians while responding to these circumstances with dignity and respect for all involved.
Flores said the Neighbourhood Empowerment Team has been active in the community, promoting crime prevention and helping address concerns about social disorder. The city continues to work with the Edmonton Police Service and city police officers to ensure safety in the area.
The city encourages people to call 211 to reach the 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team. Its workers can respond to help people in a crisis situation.
People can call 311 to report issues related to encampments.