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Removal of high-risk homeless encampments in Edmonton expected to begin Friday – Edmonton

Removal of high-risk homeless encampments in Edmonton expected to begin Friday - Edmonton
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An effort to remove several homeless encampments in Edmonton is slated to start on Friday, according to one social agency.


The Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) says the first location to be taken down will be west of Quasar Bottle Depot at 95th Street and 105th Avenue.

“The more people who understand how brutal and nasty this process is, and let others know, the greater the possibility that public pressure will push the city to find a better way to address the shame of having hundreds of people with no more shelter than a tent or tarp,” ECOHH chair Nadine Chalifoux said.


Click to play video: 'Edmonton police to dismantle several high-risk homeless encampments'

Edmonton police to dismantle several high-risk homeless encampments

“This process is contrary to internationally agreed standards that call for no evictions unless there is adequate housing available — not simply shelter mats — and without full consultation with the people affected — not just delivering a notice to their tent,” Chalifoux said.

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According to Homeward Trust Edmonton, there were 3,043 people experiencing homelessness as of Dec. 16. Of those, 670 are unsheltered, 1,743 are provisionally accommodated and 534 are staying in overnight shelters.

“The number of shelter spaces is less than half the number of people who are homeless,” said Jim Gurnett with the ECOHH.

The group said Edmonton only has about 1,126 shelter spaces available.

A statement from the province on Dec. 15 said the Alberta government has provided funding for 1,700 shelter spaces. It anticipates Edmonton’s emergency shelter capacity will grow from 1,388 to 1,510 by the end of 2023 and to 1,700 spaces “early in the new year.”

The ECOHH believes the next encampment to be removed will be the one near the Herb Jamieson shelter on Dec. 30, followed by the one near Dawson Park on Jan. 2, and the one west of Bissell Centre on Jan. 3, 2024.

A homeless encampment at 105 Aven. and 95 Street beside the bottle depot on Dec. 28, 2023.

Global News

These four encampments were among the eight high-risk locations identified for removal last week. However, an emergency court injunction sought by the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights on Dec. 18 briefly postponed the plan.

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The injunction was extended until that application for a lawsuit against the city’s encampment response is heard on Jan. 11, 2024. But police were still allowed to remove the eight high-risk encampments as long as officers follow provisions the three parties — the city, Edmonton police and the CJHR — agreed on in court.

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Moving forward, the city and officers must make sure there is enough shelter space to accommodate homeless people before taking an encampment down. They also need to notify the encampment residents, as well as social agencies, in advance.

Click to play video: 'Emergency injunction granted to stop large encampment eviction in Edmonton'

Emergency injunction granted to stop large encampment eviction in Edmonton

In a statement Thursday, Edmonton police said the clean-up effort is a joint response between the city and the EPS,” police spokesperson Carolin Maran said.

“The City of Edmonton leads the closing and cleanup of camps and any assistance provided by the EPS is part of a coordinated effort led by them. As is the case with many encampment cleanups, the EPS attends to ensure the safety of all parties.

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“EPS and the city have worked together to ensure the conditions of the temporary injunction have been met, including considerations of weather, shelter space and notice timelines.

“However, it is important to note that these considerations were all part of existing practice prior to the recent judicial events.”

She said as of the end of November, EPS has helped respond to 2,329 encampment structures in 2023.

“The approximately 130 structures scheduled as part of these (most recent) efforts do not represent an unprecedented operation, and are part of a larger backlog of encampments requiring assessment and cleanup.

“Our efforts are focused on community safety, specifically the levels of violence and crime that are often perpetuated within and on the individuals residing in encampments,” Maran said.

EPS previously told Global News that, as of November, there were more than 14,000 complaints against encampments in 2023. As a result, 4,500 camps were investigated and responded to.

Click to play video: '2 people found dead after weekend fires at Edmonton homeless encampments'

2 people found dead after weekend fires at Edmonton homeless encampments

A spokesperson for the city said it will fully comply with its obligations under the interim order, including providing advance notice to social agencies.

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“Four high-risk encampment closures are expected to occur between Dec. 29 and Jan. 3,” Karen Zypchyn said. “Additional action in high-risk encampments after Jan. 3 will proceed only after evaluation and impact assessment with partners.”

Global News has asked for clarification on shelter capacity and shelter bed numbers.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi looks back at 2023'

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi looks back at 2023

Al Harpe, who helps a homeless shelter back in his hometown Lac La Biche, recently moved to a seniors’ home in central Edmonton. He was surprised to see an encampment so close to his building.

“I think it’s a dangerous site because they have generators there, propane tanks. We already had a fire there.

“It was cleared up before, but in a matter of a couple of weeks, they were back. So, where are they going to go?”

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Harpe agrees it’s a complicated — and sad — issue, but also acknowledges it’s unsafe.

“I wouldn’t come outside in the evening alone, no. A lot of our seniors here won’t either.

“I do believe the cops when they say it’s a high-crime area. I put more faith in the police than I do in city hall,” he added.

“I think there’s a lot of talk. The mayor says the same thing over and over and over again, so you lose faith in the city.”

Click to play video: 'First-of-its-kind housing coming to Edmonton for homeless patients after E.R. discharge'

First-of-its-kind housing coming to Edmonton for homeless patients after E.R. discharge

Chalifoux and the ECOHH would like to see all levels of government invest in stable, affordable housing.

“Honestly, I would like to see everybody housed. It’s possible. We have the money for it.”

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She said dismantling encampments usually just destresses people and pushes them into another spot, which doesn’t solve the bigger issue.

“The city is denying any responsibility for it. And the province and the feds are not providing supports so that when these people’s homes are dismantled, they have a place to go or they can be housed. They can’t. The shelters are full,” Chalifoux said.

“The shelters that are being built are emergency shelters so they’re not prepared to handle people coming in in mass amounts, like they would be, and saying: ‘OK, we’re going to find you a home,’ because we don’t have those either.”

With files from Sarah Komadina, Global News and a file from The Canadian Press

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