Edmonton homeless camp near Bissell Centre reappears days after it was dismantled

An encampment in central Edmonton has reappeared just days after the city dismantled it. As Laura Krause reports, critics are questioning what supports are available for those displaced.

Two days after a “high-risk” homeless encampment near the Bissell Centre was dismantled – the fourth of five to come down in Edmonton so far – structures began reappearing.

Residents told CityNews they simply had nowhere to go.

The City of Edmonton says there were 12 people living within 14 structures in the encampment at 105A Avenue and 96 Street. Six truckloads (1,200 kg) of waste was removed, 330 needles, 17 shopping carts, and 36 propane tanks, the city says.

BACKGROUND: 4th high-risk encampment dismantled in central Edmonton

“Encampments will sometimes be re-established following closure and cleaning,” City of Edmonton spokesperson Nicole Thomas told CityNews via email.

“The closure allowed hazardous waste, including needles, to be removed and the area to be cleaned. People staying in the encampment were connected with support through the REACH 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team.”

The city says officials will be assessing if the new camp, which took the place of the old one, is deemed high risk.

Cleanup at the encampment near the Bissell Centre Jan 3, 2024. (Laura Krause, CityNews)

The city considers an encampment high risk if there is a risk of injury or death due to fire, drug use, gang violence, weapons, sanitation risk or criminal activity. Officials also consider the camp’s proximity to schools and playgrounds, and how long it has been in place.

“Encampments are a symptom of a shortage of safe, adequate and affordable housing and the supports people need to maintain it and we continue to advocate to our Federal and Provincial partners for significant investment to create long-term solutions,” Thomas said.

Per a court injunction, the city and Edmonton police must make sure there is enough shelter space to accommodate everyone before taking down an encampment, and the residents must be given notice.

Structures reappear at dismantled homeless camp near Edmonton’s Bissell Centre, Jan. 5, 2024. (CityNews)

The Alberta NDP is calling on the provincial government to provide daily updates on progress made by the province to provide safe spaces for those impacted.

“This is a waste of resources, this has disrupted a whole number of unhoused lives, for what?” said NDP housing critic Janis Irwin, who wrote a letter to Jason Nixon, the minister of seniors, community and social services.

“Where are these folks going to go? We’re getting no answers about shelter spaces available, we’re getting no answers about any sort of long-term solutions like investments in permanent supportive housing, and frankly, that’s a shame.”

Edmonton shelters are under capacity, province maintains

CityNews reached out to Nixon’s office about the NDP’s calls for daily updates. Press secretary Heather Barlow did not comment on that directly, but claimed Edmonton shelters are under-capacity and not turning people away.

“Our department watches shelter utilization numbers on a daily basis and if capacity becomes an issue, our government would take immediate action to make sure people are not turned away,” she said.

Barlow added funding for additional shelter spaces has flowed from the province to shelter operators.

“There are currently over 1,400 shelter spaces in Edmonton. Another couple hundred spaces will be opening early this year to reach 1,700 spaces. Any questions related to the timing of these remaining shelter spaces should be directed to individual shelter operators.”

But Irwin maintains getting information from the government has been a “struggle.”

“We’ve been told there are 1,700 shelter spaces available, but we’re not getting any details about where those are, are they women only, are they Indigenous led? They’re not giving us any information. No information on timelines either,” Irwin said.

“And even if those 1,700 spaces were fully operational, we know there are at least 3,000 unhoused folks right now on the streets of Edmonton. And folks on the front lines will tell you that there’s likely far more, even upwards of 5,000. So there aren’t enough spaces regardless.”

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