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Homeless camp near Bissell Centre torn down by Edmonton officials


City officials and police continued dismantling homeless camps in downtown Edmonton Wednesday morning. 

They started at Bissell Centre, where Donald May had been camping for about a year. 

He told CTV News Edmonton his tent is "basically like home" and he'd argue against anyone who said otherwise.

The camp is one of eight which a judge gave the City of Edmonton permission to clean up, so long as it notified residents and had shelter space for them. 

"I don't think that's right," a protester, Don, told CTV News Edmonton outside Bissell Centre Wednesday morning. 

He and another person carried signs that read, "No such thing as homelessness on stolen land," and, "Decriminalize houselessness. Must be nice to go home later."

Don explained: "If someone pulled up to your house, took all your things, and threw it in the garbage, I'm hoping someone would show up for you."

He added, "I feel empathy for them. It's pretty cold out here and if they've got nowhere to go, who are they harming out here? Like, they're not really harming anybody, so why is it criminal for them to try and live?"

The city and Edmonton Police Service have called the eight camps "high risk" because of fire, drug use, violence or criminal activity, pointing to a tent fire death and a sexual assault by three people investigators believe were living in the camps on Rowland Road. 

Edmonton has 1,400 shelter spaces and 300 more coming, the provincial government says. Two hundred were available as of Tuesday, according to the city. 

But one advocate says he has seen "many times" people return to sites of previous camps, days after being kicked out. 

"I think it's fair to say it is useless. It is an absolute waste of public funds," Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness spokesperson Jim Gurnett said of the camps being dismantled. 

"There are as many people camping as there were a year ago and it traumatizes and stresses people's lives."

May told CTV News Edmonton he doesn't like staying in shelters because they smell bad and he has to "deal with a bunch of other things." He also said he feels safer in camps. 

When asked what his plan was, he said, "I don't know yet. Probably have my own place by then, hopefully." 

EPS estimates there were 130 structures between the eight camps. There were 14 structures and 12 people at the camp near Bissell Centre, the city said.

Camps were also torn down at Dawson Park, the Herb Jamieson Centre, and 95 Street and 105 Avenue. 

On Thursday afternoon, the City of Edmonton said four of eight "high-risk encampments" had been closed and cleaned.

"The remaining sites will be reassessed and notifications provided to occupants and social agencies in accordance with the court orders," Karen Zypchyn wrote in a press release.

City crews removed 14 structures, 12 occupants, 330 needles, 17 shopping carts, 36 propane tanks and more than 13,000 pounds of "waste" from the encampment near the Bissell Centre.

No arrests were made and no tickets were issued during that event, Zypchyn wrote.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Matt Marshall and Darcy Seaton Top Stories

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