Calgary

Homeless encampments overwhelm Calgary's PAL response team

Homeless encampments like the one raided by a group of fed-up Inglewood residents to take back allegedly stolen property are becoming more common in the city, overwhelming capacity to respond, Calgary council heard Monday.

Illegal encampment complaints have jumped by 60% so far in 2015, compared to all of 2014

Inglewood residents, including Cheryl Myers, recently ventured into an encampment full of goods they believed to have been stolen from area homes. Now, the city is looking at new measures to address a 60% increase in complaints about illegal encampments. (Left: Facebook; Right: Dave Gilson/CBC)

Homeless encampments like the one raided by a group of fed-up Inglewood residents to take back allegedly stolen property are becoming more common in the city, overwhelming capacity to respond, Calgary council heard Monday.

The city's 311 service has already received 800 complaints about illegal encampments this year, up from 500 in 2014, according to Stuart Dalgleish, Calgary's general manager of community services.

Calgary's Partner Agency Liaison (PAL) Team has been "relatively effective" in its mandate to "address issues surrounding illegal encampments," Dalgleish told council.

PAL, created in 2010, is a partnership between bylaw officers, other city departments and external social agencies. 

"However, … we've seen an increased presence of encampments along the river in the downtown core during 2015 and that's created additional demands on that team," he said.

'Social disorder and criminal activity'

Dalgleish's comments came in response to a question from Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who raised concerns about the growth in illegal encampments and apparent increases in crime, particularly in core-area communities located near riverbanks like Inglewood.

"Much of this crime, rightly or wrongly, has been associated with encampments that we have seen along the river over the last six months," Carra said.

"These encampments have always been there — especially during warm years, late into the fall — but they've become increasingly sources of social disorder and criminal activity."

Last month, a group of Inglewood residents banded together in response to a spree of property thefts and ventured into a nearby encampment with a pair of bolt cutters to retrieve a Chariot baby carrier they allege was taken from a woman's home.

Carra has since advised residents against taking matters into their own hands and inquired Monday about what more the city can do about these "complex social issues."

Dalgleish said the city is now looking at bolstering the PAL team, perhaps by creating a "dedicated city response team" to deal with encampments.

Cleanup costs $5,000 per camp

The city may also ask the Calgary Police Service to expand its involvement in addressing the issue, he added.

"We continue to explore solutions and we plan to look for some better answers," Dalgleish told council, adding city staff should have a more specific plan by early 2016.

It costs about $5,000 to clean up an encampment, Dalgleish noted.

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