Southeast of Edmonton, the city of Wetaskiwin is in the midst of deep tension over a newly established tent city.
“Day and night, there are people driving by harassing us,” tent city volunteer Vee Duncan said.
It has only been a week since this encampment in Wetaskiwin was set up and already people want it gone.
“We have a lot of young families in the area. We have a lot of retired people in the area that want to walk around their community without feeling threatened,” resident Randy Jones said.
Since the camp was set up, Jones said he thinks there’s been an increase in crime and drug activity in the neighbourhood.
He and others have started a petition for the camp’s removal.
“This is not acceptable. They need to find an alternate means of doing whatever they want to do,” Jones said.
But packing up and moving somewhere else with adequate support is not a viable option. Earlier this week, the city shut down its 24-7 shelter.
“The operations of the hub and shelter started to deteriorate in terms of what the downtown was then facing with public intoxication, drug use and assaults,” Wetaskiwin Mayor Tyler Gandam said.
“Council’s decision to end the lease agreement with a 5-2 vote to close the building to the Open Door — personally, I wish that we had an alternative location set up before that lease was terminated.”
But that was not the case, and instead, many sought shelter at the Rock Soup Green House and Food Bank.
“People started to come here because they had nowhere else to go,” Duncan said.
While the food bank is welcoming people who need shelter, it is struggling to provide food and support for those facing mental health and addictions issues.
But Duncan said there is a bigger problem.
“The biggest issue is the negative impact from the community and the residents in this area alone,” Duncan said.
The city has issued a stop order for the encampment to be dismantled next week, but camp organizers said they will protest that.
An open council meeting will be held Monday for stakeholders and the public to give input on finding a new location and a more permanent solution to this contentious issue.