Homeless people living in camps on city outskirts

Ken Wilde lives in a tent just metres away from the busy Yellowhead Highway. The 63-year-old picked this spot because he doesn’t want to sleep in a shelter with hundreds of strangers.
Ken Wilde lives in a tent close to the Yellowhead Highway on the outskirts of Edmonton. (CBC )

An old lime green tent sits among the trees just 20 metres away from the busy Yellowhead Highway just outside Edmonton.

Ken Wilde lives here. The 63-year-old picked this unlikely spot because he doesn’t want to sleep in a shelter with hundreds of strangers.

While he calls his situation “embarrassing,” Wilde has nowhere else to go.

“I'm disabled. Went through a divorce,” he said. “My son got killed, went through depression. Just having a really hard time bringing myself back up again.”

Ken Wilde's tent is close to the Yellowhead Highway. (CBC )
No one bothers him here but Wilde admits the highway noise makes it difficult to sleep.

“You get tired. You just pass out,” he said.

Wilde is one of about 100 people living in camps on the outskirts of Edmonton, according to the Boyle Street Outreach Team, which makes welfare checks on homeless people and tries connecting them with housing and services.

Team leader Aidan Inglis says many of the people he meets have complex issues that make it difficult to get into housing. He says building trust is a key part in getting them the help they need.

“It takes time and a lot of relationship-building and getting to know what’s going on and then trying to come up with a game plan that’s what they want and that's going to work for them.”

With cold weather just weeks away, inner city shelters are making preparations for higher numbers of clients.

This summer, about 550 people stayed at the Hope Mission each night. The shelter has a capacity of 750.

Manager Nathan Vidoya expects the Hope Mission will need the overflow room where they can offer mats for men to sleep on.

The agency is also working on a contingency plan if more people need a warm place to sleep.

“We are in conversation with other agencies seeing how we can provide manpower if they provide the spaces and places for us,” Vidoya said.

“In the past, churches have been able to do that for us using their gyms and whatnot.”

About six drop-in centres are also expected to extend their hours this winter. A winter warming bus will also operate to take people to shelters.

As for Ken Wilde, Inglis from the Boyle Street Outreach Team is working on getting him a place to live so he doesn’t need to spend the winter outdoors.