New homeless camp appears as Edmonton works towards a housing solution
EDMONTON -- A new homeless camp has been set up in Wilbert McIntyre Park on 104 st, just north of Whyte Avenue. A spokesperson for its residents says many of them have been kicked out of their tents elsewhere in the river valley. They’ve set up in the park to be in full public view.
“We’re not making any demands or anything,” Cameron Noyes told CTV News Edmonton, “We just want to draw attention to the issue of youth homelessness before winter hits. We need to get rooms for these guys.”
There was a small group of tents set up Sunday, much smaller than Edmonton’s other homeless settlement, Camp Pekiwewin, in Rossdale. The two camps are not affiliated, but there is resident crossover.
“We are getting a lot of people up on Whyte Avenue from the tent city down there,” Noyes said.
Camp Pekiwewin was set up in the green space next to Re/Max Field after shelter space at the Expo Centre was shut down Aug. 1, and organizers have issued a list of six demands.
Saturday, the City of Edmonton released a statement about the camp. Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin says “The six demands of the Camp Pekiwewin organizers are broad. They are about long-term social change, and we are interested in joint problem solving towards many of their aims. But, the City cannot allow illegal camps to drive policymaking.”
The statement goes on to say the city is working towards shutting homeless camps down peacefully.
The push for transitional housing
City staff, councillors and advocates for the homeless believe long-term housing is needed to solve Edmonton’s homelessness problem.
According to the City, roughly 1,900 people are homeless in Edmonton, and 500 to 600 of them choose to camp outside, rather than stay at a shelter.
Rooms at the Coliseum Inn are being used to transition people into more stable housing through Homeward Trust. This fall, 36 more spaces are expected to become available at the repurposed dormitory that jockeys used before horse racing left Northlands Park.
City Council has dedicated $53 million to build affordable housing, but the provincial government has not added to those dollars.
“Housing solutions are a provincial responsibility,” Laughlin said, “it must share in this problem solving with the City.”
City Council recently voted to ask the provincial and Federal governments to help buy up underused hotels and apartments. Those spaces would be used for temporary housing for the homeless.
“You know I think we have huge sympathy with what they’re looking for,” Ward 8 Councillor Ben Henderson said, referring to Camp Pekiwewin’s demands. “I mean we’re desperately trying to get people housed.”
While the new camp is receiving food and other donations from the community, Henderson says many business owners in the area are eager to see it removed. He says they are concerned the camp will deter customers, adding to the impact COVID-19 closures have already had.
“The worry is if it does real harm in the Old Strathcona area, to those businesses, there could be another huge price to pay,” Henderson explained.
Mayor Don Iveson has put a 10 week timeline on finding a solution, so far city staff have not laid out their plan to close down the camps.