Homeless camp in Old Strathcona must leave by Friday, city says

The city has given an encampment set up to draw attention to the predicament of homeless and vulnerable people until 10 a.m.. Friday to pack up and leave a park in Old Strathcona.  

About 40 to 50 people have lived at the Peace Camp for the last 11 days

An encampment in Old Strathcona calls for housing for the homeless and harm reduction supplies. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

An encampment set up to draw attention to the predicament of homeless and vulnerable people has been told by the city to pack up and leave a park in Old Strathcona by 10 a.m. Friday.

Organizers of the Peace Camp at Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park have lived in the park close to the Old Strathcona Market for 11 days. The camp was set up to raise awareness about the need for supportive housing and a safe supply of drugs to prevent overdoses in the Old Strathcona area. 

Spokesperson Cameron Noyes said he isn't surprised the city gave the camp an ultimatum. He says the group is meeting to figure out its next steps. 

"We're not going to tear down the camp," he said, while acknowledging the city will likely remove the tents if they are still there on Friday morning.

"We're going to stand our ground for now. And we have a plan B. We definitely are going to move the camp."

Noyes declined to say where the new location will be as he didn't want to encourage the city to take pre-emptive action. 

In a written statement provided to CBC News, City of Edmonton spokesperson Geoff Grimble said officials are concerned about the safety of homeless and vulnerable people who live at the camp.

Last week, one person was sent to hospital after he was attacked by someone brandishing a machete. The man's injuries required surgery and many stitches to repair. 

Noyes said the attacker did not live in the camp. The injured man is now out of hospital and now walking around, Noyes said. 

The city's ultimatum came on the same day Peace Camp organizers sent a list of demands to Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson aimed at helping the 40 or 50 homeless and vulnerable people who are staying at the Old Strathcona camp. 

They include opening a new overnight shelter friendly to LGBTQ and Indigenous people that isn't run by a religious group; providing $10,000 to buy tents, food and first aid supplies for people who continue to sleep outside; and the provision of housing and social services at the camp.

The group also wants a supervised consumption site set up in Old Strathcona.

They are also calling on the city, and possibly the provincial and federal governments, to release a list of surplus buildings and their future intended purposes. 

Noyes has suggested the city could rent a hotel to provide safe housing for people at the camp. 

The city believes permanent housing with supports in place is the best option, Grimble said. He said the city arranged for housing workers from Homeward Trust to visit the camp on Friday. Workers from the Bissell Centre, a non-profit that helps house people living on the streets or in shelters, showed up the next day. 

The organizers of the Old Strathcona camp are not connected to Camp Pekiwewin, a homeless encampment set up by frontline workers and Indigenous-led community organizers on July 24 across from Re/Max Field in Rossdale.

Coun. Ben Henderson said the city has a great deal of empathy for homeless Edmontonians but there are issues with hygiene, safety and the impact on local businesses, which already struggling during the pandemic.

"They've been very, very understanding," Henderson said Wednesday. "But they're beginning to get scared. They're beginning to get scared about their sustainability. And that's what makes this one very complicated to deal with."

Henderson said he has not visited the encampment because talks were already underway with city officials.

City council is seeking funding from the federal and provincial governments to buy or lease underused hotels and apartment buildings.

Ultimately, said Henderson, Edmonton needs more permanent supportive housing.

"The irony is the more the city steps up, the more everybody assumes it's the city's responsibility," said Henderson. "We've stepped in precisely because the order of government, whose responsibility it actually is, has not been stepping in."

The Old Strathcona Business Association cancelled an interview with CBC after hearing the encampment was being shut down.

With files from Andrea Huncar