Edmonton

Homeless camps surge, forcing city to hire more social workers

A growing number of makeshift homeless camps in the river valley and other city parks may force council to spend $450,000 on more outreach workers and a housing coordinator.

Council to consider request for $450,000

A homeless camp in Edmonton's river valley. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC News)
A growing number of makeshift homeless camps in the river valley and other city parks may force council to spend $450,000 on more outreach workers and a housing coordinator.
Aidan Inglis, an outreach worker with Boyle Street Community Services, says a growing number of homeless camps are stretching resources. (CBC News)

“When the temperatures drop we are scrambling to make sure that we’re checking on everyone that’s out there,” said Aidan Inglis, an outreach worker with Boyle Street Community Services. 

“The more we find people spread out across the city, the thinner we are spread to check on those folks, so every extra person we can have out there … the better off we are."

This year workers cleaned up 587 camps in the river valley and 350 elsewhere in the city, numbers much higher than previous years. 

"Realize that because of the booming economy, and the fact Edmonton is attracting so many people, it's not going to disappear and we have to be more proactive," said Don Belanger, with the city’s community standards branch.

Many of those still in the 100-or-so camps still inhabited belong to people who can’t find housing or consider their camp safer than anywhere else.

Camper recently homeless

Inglis spent Thursday morning checking into the camps - including one where a grey tent was surrounded by personal items piled high.

The inhabitant was recently homeless and had to take whatever belongings he could, Inglis said.

“We have been working this individual and trying to connect with them and connect them with some housing options,” he said.

In the meantime the individual, like many others, is making do in frigid cold.

“People when pressed to survive become extremely resourceful,” Inglis said

“They find ways to stay warm whether that’s things that are dangerous like lighting a candle ... or run an electrical cord to a heater.

“Lots of people do find ways to survive but it can be extremely scary for those who don't have the skills and have not been in this situation before.”

Some of the requested money will also be spent on cleaning up the hundreds of abandoned camps, Belanger said.

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