Homeless Fort McMurray RVers unsure where they'll go when trailer park closes

At the end of October, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will close its temporary RV park for Fort McMurray residents left homeless by May’s wildfire. Some of the RVers say they’ll be homeless.

Fort McMurray hopes Alberta government will step in and provide temporary housing

Fort McMurray is closing its temporary RV park for residents whose homes were lost or damaged in May’s wildfire. Some of the RVers say they’ll soon be homeless again. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

Try fitting a woman and her husband, their two kids, all their clothes and toys, and the family dog inside an RV — and making it the family home for more than three months.

And then add a twist: worrying about finding a new place to park that crowded recreational vehicle when winter hits.

That's been Karie Farrel's struggle since May's wildfire forced her family out of their Fort McMurray, Alta., home.

"It's hard, in a sense," Farrel said. "Being stuck in a trailer with three kids is hard."

It's also difficult because the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, will be closing a temporary trailer park at Abraham's Landing in the north end of the city that for months has been home to displaced fire evacuees.

The city spent $1.63 million to outfit the park with amenities such as water, sewage removal, garbage and recycling, fire hydrants, electricity and internet, and is providing those services without charge to residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged during the wildfire.

But by the end of October, the park is going to close and people are going to have to move on.

Karie Farrel colours with her two children inside her trailer that her family has called home since May. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

Farrel's Prairie Creek home was flooded during the month-long evacuation. She's grateful the city had a place for her family to stay, but she said its latest actions have left residents like her with little notice and few options.

"I just want to make a note that no one from the municipality has been in to visit anyone here, which is kind of sickening," Farrel said.

'We have no place to go'

At another RV lot, Gerald Hatcher and his wife smoke a cigarette in their 1983 Southwind motor home.

They sit in a cloud of uneasiness, not knowing where they will park their retro motor home, purchased because they thought they would could stay for a while longer at Abraham's Landing.

Gerald Hatcher isn't sure where he and his wife will go when the RV park closes Oct. 30.

They lived for 12 years in a mobile home that had to be dismantled after the wildfire because the flames had destroyed most of the other homes in the trailer park.

"We demolished our place and took what we could take out of it. The rest we gave away," Hatcher said.

Now he finds himself moving again.

"Seems like every step forward, we take 10 back rather than (moving) ahead," Hatcher said. "We have no place to go as of right now."

He's looking for a place for himself, his partner, his two dogs and bunny. But pet-friendly housing is scarce, and he's only finding listings for between $3,000 and $4000 a month. They are out of his reach. 

"It's not for lack of trying — we've tried," Hatcher said of his search for a new place to live.

"When they shut this park down, there's probably a lot of people that don't know what they are doing yet. They may even leave Fort McMurray. I have no idea."

RVers have 'other options'

The municipality said it notified RVers verbally when they entered the park, and on its website, that the facility would close Sept. 30. Last week it extended the closing date to Oct. 30.

It says the park was always meant to be a short-term solution while displaced Fort McMurray residents found a "longer term housing option."

The city said Fort McMurray has two other privately owned trailer parks that can absorb the residents.

It also amended a bylaw to accommodate more RVs in town.

Erin O'Neill, with Wood Buffalo's planning office, says RVers were informed the trailer park would close in the fall. (David Thurton /CBC News)

"The bylaw that we did pass does allow you to park at your friend's house. You can have one RV on someone else's lot,"said Erin O'Neill, who works in the city's planning office.

"So if you would like to go there you would have access to power at their house," O'Neill said.

In the meantime, the city is also expecting the province to announce funding for temporary accommodation that could ease the pressure on residents as they head into the colder months.