Alberta city moves homeless camp away from shelter and behind a Walmart

Aid group says four people have died in the camp since August.

In August, Craig Haavaldsen, owner of the Rock Soup Greenhouse and Food Bank, helped set up 55 tents beside his building to provide a safe homeless camp.

According to Haavaldsen, the city fined him for helping and even tried to close his non-profit outfit and evict him.

Now the City of Wetaskiwin, located about an hour south of Edmonton, has forced the homeless camp to move onto city property behind a local Walmart.

“Here we had a connection, a family,” he told APTN News. “We had bathrooms, running water, power, heat, laundry facilities, we had wifi. There, they don’t have any of that. They don’t have power, they don’t have water. There’s no way to warm up.

“And it’s cold out there right now. There are fire pits, but there is no consistent fuel.”

Carrie Lou is one of the people who was moved to behind the Walmart.

She says with evening temperatures going below freezing, a permanent, indoor solution is needed now.

“It’s getting cold. I have four blankets, you know the thick ones, and I was still freezing,” she says. “I had my winter jacket on. It’s getting colder.

“There is no indoor place yet, but some of these people stay up all night just to keep warm by the fire.”

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Tensions rise in Wetaskiwin after homeless shelter closes 

In August, Mayor Tyler Gandam told APTN that closing the indoor shelter was because of an increase in crime.

But the RCMP told APTN that crime was actually down.

Gandam also said that he was expecting a solution for the homeless camp before winter – so far, the space behind the Walmart is the solution.

Haavaldsen says there aren’t enough supports for people in the camp.

The Open Door Association provides medical, mental and addictions help – but a bylaw prevents them from operating on city property.

“People are being denied access to services. The city is currently preventing the shelter from the staff from being able to access the site,” he says.

“Bylaw is being encouraged to enforce a $600 fine for any staff onsite. These are the medical professionals, the counselors, the addictions therapists, the nurse, the doctors.”

Jessica Hutton, CEO of the Camrose Open Door Association which ran the shelter says the situation is heartbreaking.

“It’s absolutely beyond frustrating. I think frustrating doesn’t sum up what it is anymore. I think it’s horribly sick to ask us to have to stand on the fence line and watch what is going on, and watch people who are so sick, and be completely unable and powerless to go and do what we know we do best,” she says.

Hutton says the results of ignoring the needs of the people in the camp can be deadly.

“There have been people who have died since we closed the Hub,” she says. “There was a monumental medical emergency last night and those types of things really concern us. When we can’t get on to check on clients, and it turns into a monumental emergency, that’s obviously very concerning.

“That there might be people who won’t get medications, or food, or water or help or any of that because we are not allowed on the site right now.”

She says four people have died since August.

Carie Lou says she recently fell and now has a metal plate in her arm. She says the cold is unbearable.

“I didn’t realize having a plate in your arm when it gets cold… it really hurts. I cried in my tent for two hours in agonizing pain. We need a warm building for the winter.”

APTN asked Gandam for an interview regarding the camp. He says he’s too busy preparing for the Oct. 18 civic elections to comment.

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