'These people need housing now': City orders closure of homeless camp in Old Strathcona
EDMONTON -- A homeless camp in Old Strathcona has been ordered to close by the city, but organizers say the campers don't intend to leave by the Friday morning deadline.
For the past 11 days "Peace Camp" has been set up in Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park with approximately 40 people living at the camp.
Organizers say they got an email from a city official telling them the camp must be dismantled by 10 a.m. Friday.
The city says it met with organizers of the camp four times to listen to concerns and provide information on shelters and services. In a statement, it said, "The camp organizer indicated that the camp would be temporary and committed to send the City a proposed date for closure. The organizer has subsequently failed to provide the City with a closure date."
This came after camp organizers sent a list of demands to the city that included safe housing, a safe injection site, as well as a place to access a safe drug supply.
Organizers say the email from the city about the closure was not a surprise.
"It happened a little sooner than we'd hoped, but it happened a little later than we expected," said Cameron Noyes.
"I'm hoping that they don't have to move back to Millcreek Ravine and places like that because they're way more vulnerable down there to everything than they are here."
Noyes is one of the organizers of the camp and a long time advocate for people living on the street. He says he's been testing the drugs in Peace Camp himself and the amount of drugs that are laced with fentanyl is alarming.
"Every bit of ecstasy I've tested has fentanyl in it, and that's the kind of drug high school people use at parties," said Noyes. "This is going to affect the safer neighbourhoods in the city eventually, I'd like to head that off at the pass by having the test kits that we need."
He says they desperately need the kits as they've now run out, because when they were able to test the drugs coming into the camp they had zero overdoses.
"If there's anything I can do to prevent any of these people from dying over the winter or dying from overdoses, I personally am going to do that, and our group is discussing how we can do that without the camp, but it's going to be difficult when everybody splits up," said Noyes.
Noyes says a few organizers have found housing for some of the campers, but they can't house everyone without help from the city.
"The city is working to identify vacant buildings that could be used as short-term bridge housing, as well as longer term affordable supporting housing," said Mayor Don Iveson.
The city says it has provided the group with options for support, such as shelters below capacity. Noyes says the group feels safer at the camp than they would in a shelter.
"We need to get our point across that these people need housing now, winter is coming and we have one person yesterday with hypothermia," said Noyes. "That's going to start happening to more people."
Noyes said the campers will not be leaving by the 10 a.m. deadline, but they do have other places in mind to go in case they're forced out of the camp by officers.
"We have an alternative plan, yes, and we want to surprise everyone with that because we don't want to give the city a lot of lead time on where we go," said Noyes.
"The City is committed to a peaceful and dignified closure that is minimally disruptive as possible," said a statement from a city official. It goes on to say peace officers will be on hand to facilitate the removal of any remaining structures at the park if they are not removed by the deadline.
"In the end I don't know what to do, because I don't want to let these people go into nothing, and I don't want to make the city angrier than they are," said Noyes.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson