Edmonton’s Camp Pekiwewin set to close down Saturday afternoon

A photo of Camp Pekiwewin in Edmonton. Chris Chacon/Global News

Camp Pekiwewin, the homeless encampment that has been situated in Edmonton’s Rossdale neighbourhood since the end of July, is set to officially shut down Saturday afternoon.

Organizers said the camp, which has been home to hundreds of people for several months, will wrap up after a ceremonial round dance Saturday at 3:30 p.m. It will take place at 104 Street and 96 Avenue, at the northwest corner of the camp.

“This ceremony is to commemorate the time shared at Pekiwewin, those friends and family who have passed while living rough or houseless — and to honour the space and people that have made it special,” the camp said in a statement posted to social media this week.

“This ceremony is also to honour community members, elders, helpers and other contributors that do the good, hard work everyday, regardless of Pekiwewin. Our support will continue beyond camp and many involved will continue to bring attention to the lack of transparency from the city, the ongoing harassment of the unhoused community and Indigenous peoples.”

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The camp organizers said they will be holding a closing news conference early Saturday afternoon. A walk in support of the camp will also be held ahead of the round dance ceremony.

Click to play video 'No end date for Rossdale homeless encampment as Edmonton moves forward with housing plans' No end date for Rossdale homeless encampment as Edmonton moves forward with housing plans
No end date for Rossdale homeless encampment as Edmonton moves forward with housing plans – Oct 15, 2020

The decision to close the camp by this weekend was made at the end of October, following an announcement from the City of Edmonton that the convention centre would be opening up as a shelter for the winter.

That shelter will have the capacity to support up to 300 people for day services and overnight shelter, according to city officials.

In its first week, the Edmonton Convention Centre saw an average of 317 people each day come through its doors.

Read more: Edmonton Convention Centre to open as temporary homeless shelter Friday

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Shima Robinson, the camp’s media liaison, had said on Oct. 30 that the cold weather ahead meant the camp was no longer viable.

“It is a huge challenge to keep everybody warm,” she said, adding that an additional concern was keeping safety supplies like naloxone kits usable through the cold temperatures.

“We’re a harm-reduction site, so naloxone kits are key to our function,” Robinson explained. “Naloxone is liquid. It will freeze in the winter. Once it’s frozen and defrosted, it’s a third as effective as it would (be) otherwise.”

The City of Edmonton said this week it was working with the organizers to move residents into alternative locations like the convention centre.

“Outreach workers at Camp Pekiwewin have started to facilitate the transition for camp residents into alternate accommodations, whether at the Edmonton Convention Centre, the expanded Hope Mission and Mustard Seed shelters or other existing facilities,” said a statement from the city on Wednesday.

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“Chartered ETS buses have also started to bring campers and their belongings to the Edmonton Convention Centre.  As the site is cleared, city crews will begin site reclamation and cleanup of the camp.”

Another temporary homeless shelter was also opened in Edmonton’s Ritchie neighbourhood on Nov. 2, with a capacity of 120.

A Peace Camp had been set up in Old Strathcona for months — first at Wilbert Mcintyre Park then at Light Horse Park.

Camp organizers gave the city an end date of Oct. 31 and on Thursday there were still about 35 to 40 people living at the site.

Read more: Old Strathcona encampment to close over the next week: organizers

The city estimates about 2,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Edmonton, with 600 sleeping outside or unsheltered on any given night.

–With files from Emily Mertz