Former Edmonton encampment resident reacts to court hearing on homeless camp tear-downs

An Edmonton man who once lived in a homeless encampment reacts to the court hearing on how the city can move forward on camp tear-downs during the holidays.

An Edmonton court heard arguments on whether or not tear-downs of encampments could happen a week before Christmas. Josh Bell, a former encampment resident, felt the need to be there.

“It terrifies me this time of year as well, because when people are out in the elements like that, you will get the classic hypothermia, amputations, and frostbite,” explained Bell.

One year ago, CityNews brought you his story, after he lost everything in an encampment fire.

“It’s unbelievable how fast these tents going up, we’re just trying to stay warm. It’s not easy trying to take care of each other and take care of yourself. We just try to stick together and do what we can for each other,” said Bell in a 2022 interview.

READ MORE: Explosions at encampment fire could have been fatal, Edmonton Police

This Christmas, he has a roof over his head. Reflecting on the challenges he had to overcome living on the street, saying he was displaced seven times in a year and a half.

“That was a very very hard day, and the following months as well. The mental illness regards to living on the street as it is, but then having traumatic incidents like that happening, it’s tough. It’s tough waters to tread through,” he explained.

“I’m just glad I have a roof over my head and a furnace blowing hot air all night long, so it’s good. It’s comfortable, I’m blessed.”

Bell added, “There’s no doubt there’s high risk out here, there are incidents, not the best people come out, but the amount of good people who are out here, people who are just down on their luck, like everything is going against them.”

Late last week, it was revealed the City and Edmonton police had planned to take down more than 135 structures at eight encampments they deem ‘high-risk’.

But a human rights group tried to put a stop to it, taking the city and police to court where they battled it out all day Monday.

Lawyers came to a conclusion in court that the deal allows police to move forward with the sweep of the eight encampments, but only if they follow some conditions.


Conditions like notifying those living in encampments as well as nearby social agencies, making sure there is shelter space, and taking into account cold weather.

“Where are we supposed to go? What are we supposed to do, because we’re getting kicked out of everywhere, there’s no structure to anything.”

The lawyer for the police chief- saying these camps are high-risk- pointing to a fatal tent fire over the weekend- and says a man was sexually assaulted by 3 people near another camp.

While Bell acknowledges there are some dangers out there, he says there are better options out there than tearing down encampments.

“You go from no rules, out on the street to into a shelter where there is nothing but rules and you have one strike and you’re gone. There’s got to be a lot more patience. It takes a long time for people to get in this situation, so I don’t understand why people think it will only take a day or two to get out of it.”

The court decision will remain in effect until January 11, that’s when the Coalition of Justice and Human Rights — the group suing the city for its encampment response — is scheduled to return to court.

“Just knowing there are people out there with huge hearts and huge amounts of compassion, we’re all blessed to have all of them, like the coalition, that’s insane. It’s so cool, and I believe with the help of everyone and love of everyone we are going to get to a much safer and happier place,” said Bell.

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