Wetaskiwin City Council votes to close ‘tent city’

The decision was made based on safety concerns and low utilization of the encampment

A teepee stands at a homeless camp in Wetaskiwin, Alta. on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. The central Alberta city is closing a homeless encampment with help from Mounties because of safety risks it says will persist if it remains open. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

At a special City of Wetaskiwin Council meeting held on Jan. 17, 2022, council directed administration to work with the RCMP to close the encampment located on 5800 37A Ave.

The recommendation to close the encampment was brought forward for council’s consideration due to low utilization of the encampment and safety risks . Utilization of the encampment declined following the opening of the 24/7 Emergency Shelter nearby.

Currently, the majority of people who were living at the encampment are now using the warming shelter run by the Mustard Seed or the Samson Cree shelter.

Safety concerns considered for the closing of the encampment included the safety of those living at ‘tent city’, and the safety of Wetaskiwin residents residing in the area.

Since the encampment opened in August 2021, Wetaskiwin fire services says they have attended multiple fire-related calls at the camp, including one severe structure fire, and two instances where people sustained serious burns after falling into flames. Fire services stated that at the severe fire they attended at the encampment, “the possibility of death was very imminent.”

In that time Wetaskiwin RCMP say they attended 37 calls related to assault, robbery, weapons, and arson.

Following discussion with partner agencies, the Wetaskiwin Emergency Shelter Advisory Board has chosen Feb. 20, 2022, as the tentative closure date for the encampment. They state that notices of the closure will be distributed as soon as possible to those who remain at the encampment.

READ MORE: Mustard Seed to take over operation of Wetaskiwin’s winter emergency shelter

Thanks to grant funding provided through Maskwacis Cree Tribal Council, the city is working on procuring a storage unit that can be used by those currently homeless to securely store personal belongings.

City administration says they will work with Maskwacis Mobile Mental Health to provide health supports onsite at the encampment while the closure takes place.

The amenities including the toilets, garbage bins, and fire pits at the encampment will be removed following the official closure of the site.

“Administration continues to work with our partners in the community and region to ensure we understand and respect all perspectives in closing the current encampment,” said Paul Edginton, General Manager of Community and Protective Services.

“The 24/7 emergency shelter, operated by The Mustard Seed, allows our administration to close the encampment while ensuring those experiencing homelessness have access to much needed supports.”

City administration says they are actively and regularly speaking with Maskwacis Cree Tribal Council, Maskwacis Health Services and Samson Community Wellness on how to remove and dismantle areas of the encampment, such as the tepee in a culturally sensitive manner.

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In the January 17 special council meeting, city council also directed administration to continue investigating grant funding to help offset the cost of the city’s community development coordinator position. This position is dedicated to supporting the Mustard Seed and partners in Maskwacis in providing services to those experiencing homelessness.

The community development coordinator position is currently funded using an existing staffing grant from the Government of Alberta that is set to expire March 31, 2022.

The city says Wetaskiwin’s Emergency Shelter Advisory Board continues to discuss and explore options for both short and long-term supports for vulnerable community members.



shaela.dansereau@pipestoneflyer.ca

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