The banks of the Red River are a bit tidier today, thanks to several Point Douglas residents.
Sunday’s cleanup efforts were organized by the Point Douglas Residents Committee, which says much of the debris was left behind from encampments.
“There’s always been campers down here for the past 12 years, but for the most part they’ve been keeping to themselves and not creating such a mess as what you see here,” said spokesperson Howard Warren.
“During the pandemic, it blasted off exponentially. You have people coming down here with shopping carts full of crap pretty much on a daily basis and setting up camp and then just leaving their stuff behind.”
Indeed, the area is a mess, and some of the trash has already been swallowed by rising river levels.
The site the group chose to tackle first was “one of the more egregious,” Warren said, but depending on how things went, he says they may wade further into the treed areas to clean more at another time.
“Yesterday, I walked from the Redwood Bridge all they way here to the Disraeli, and it’s like this in various other places as well,” Warren said.
“I hope that we can get our crew together and – this is the most accessible place, the other ones are harder to get at, so it might be more of a problem.”
Warren added they’ve been hounding the city for months to take care of the debris, but there’s been no action.
In an email response to questions, a city spokesperson said the first step to cleaning up abandoned encampments is to first make sure they are actually abandoned.
“The City works closely with Main Street Project and other community partners to ensure no inhabited encampments are removed unless they present an immediate safety risk,” they wrote.
“Our protocol is to only remove abandoned materials, and only once we have both confirmed they are in fact abandoned and have been able to access the site in question.”
However, they added that hasn’t been able to happen yet since the banks of the river are still too unstable for crews and machinery to get down the slope.
“We are aware of concerns about the location in question; however we have thus far been unable to safely remove the material. I can confirm it will be attended to as soon as conditions allow,” they concluded.
Bits of trash, tarps, and shopping carts remain, but each was left behind by a person facing hardships many will never know.
Warren admits it’s an indication of wider, more complex issues he doesn’t have the answers to.
“It’s really discouraging,” Warren reflected.
“I mean, we’ve come to accept this is the norm in society. We actually expect to see our bus shelters full of people living in them and individuals living in the most extreme and harsh conditions in Winnipeg.
“(Housing) is a basic human right.”