Occupy Calgary protesters agree to deal

Protesters at the St. Patrick's Occupy Calgary site agreed to a deal with the Calgary Homeless Foundation to get the homeless people who have occupied the island into permanent housing provided they vacate the site by 11 a.m. on Monday.

Protesters to vacate St. Patrick’s Island to get homeless occupiers into homes

Occupy Calgary protesters on St. Patrick’s Island say their tents will be down by Monday at 11 a.m. after the group voted almost unanimously to a deal from the Calgary Homeless Foundation and other local agencies.

''It's a Band-aid solution, again you're saying we'll offer you this if you shut up."— Madison Wozni

According to Paul Hughes, a deal between the foundation and homeless people who have occupied the island will get them off the streets and into future permanent housing — provided they vacate the site.

Hughes calls himself the camp manager of the St. Patrick's occupy site and says most of the people at his camp are homeless and wanted a solution. Teams from a number of addiction and other social agencies were on the island Thursday to get people assessed and on waiting lists.

But the deal has created a big philosophical split between two Occupy Calgary groups, with talks almost being derailed Wednesday after a conflict that included screaming and swearing.


Can the Occupy movement survive without campsites? Have your say.

Those camping at Olympic Plaza downtown are protesting inequality and corporate greed, but many campers in Centenary Park at St. Patrick's Island are homeless people advocating for housing.

It was agreed they shared the same voice, but a split resulted over an offer to find some of the protesters a place to live.

Those staying at Olympic Plaza trashed the idea of breaking camp at the site in return for getting onto the waitlist for housing because they say it doesn’t solve the root of the problem. Campers at Olympic Plaza told CBC News reporter Alana Cole Wednesday night that they are not going anywhere.

Madison Wozni said homeless campers making a deal with the Calgary Homeless Foundation would only be a Band-aid solution. (CBC )
Madison Wozni has been at Olympic Plaza since day one — Oct. 15 — pitching her tent nearly three weeks ago. 

"St. Patrick's Island has requested that we stay autonomous from each other," she said. 

She says her group intervened and claimed to speak on behalf of all of the protestors at both locations, although neither group has a permanent leader or spokesperson.

Wozni said the offer would have affected people who've been waiting years on a list for affordable housing.

"It's a Band-aid solution, again you're saying we'll offer you this if you shut up. How is that gonna make a difference for the other people," she said.

Olivia, who declined to give her last name, says she's been on that list for two years.

"I felt that it was a big slap in the face especially for people who have been on the lists for so long," she said.

‘Dangerous’ to stay outdoors

Calgary Homeless Foundation Tim Richter would like to see homeless campers get into permanent homes. CBC
Calgary Homeless Foundation president Tim Richter says it’s dangerous to encourage people to stay outdoors in winter. He's angry the Olympic Plaza group intervened Wednesday.

"You have a situation here where vulnerable people here, who are long-term homeless with a variety of different issues often with compromised health, are now being enticed and encouraged to stay outside in a situation that we know is dangerous for them," he said. "To me that's irresponsible and foolish."

Richter said those signing up for the deal are not getting ahead of others already on the list, as people are housed based on medical and social needs, not always on a first-come basis.

He says their offer includes short-term accommodation at a shelter first, working towards permanent affordable homes later.

Hughes said the Olympic Plaza protesters don’t know what they’re talking about.

"They've had nothing to do with any of the negotiations whatsoever they don't know anything about any of the particulars or the details, nobody's queue jumping," he said.

Hughes says division between the two groups is making it easier to get the homeless out of its camp and into permanent housing.

It couldn't happen soon enough, since Calgary city council is considering its legal options to force the "occupiers" to leave on Monday even though it said it wouldn't force protesters out in the past.

City wants the campers out

Mayor Naheed Nenshi engages with an Occupy Calgary protester at a food truck event Monday. (CBC)
Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it's time for Occupy Calgary to pack up its tents at Olympic Plaza.

The city and several members of city council have repeatedly asked the protesters to leave the downtown park.

Despite a municipal by-law against camping in parks, the protesters have refused to leave — saying they're expressing their right to free speech.

As he was taking part in a food truck event in Olympic Plaza Monday, Nenshi said he has no problem with people expressing their views during the day — but the camping should stop.

"I would much rather come to a conclusion that respects everyone's rights rather than the strong arm of enforcement," he said. "That said, the city certainly has the strong arm of enforcement and if we have to use it, we will."

Occupy Calgary protester Brent Talbot took advantage of the food truck crowds to spread his message.

"Not everyone can afford to pay for food in this city," he said.

Nenshi says city officials are continuing to negotiate with the protesters.

Calgarian Ray Ranta said allowing the protesters to stay sets a precedent for a lot of things down the road and feels the mayor should address it.

The city says the protest has caused $40,000 in damages, including broken heaters and a sink in the bathrooms, and additional maintenance and security costs in the park.

There are also concerns from the city about sharing the Olympic Plaza with other Calgarians. While protesters moved their tents to share the space with a Muslim Heritage Day festival last Saturday — and the day went off without a hitch — city officals said other groups have booked the area for upcoming events.