February 28th, 2024

Edmonton dismantles two homeless encampments it deemed ‘high-risk’

By The Canadian Press on December 30, 2023.

The City of Edmonton says it has closed another homeless encampment that it considers high-risk. A man prepares to move his belongings as police and cleanup crews prepare to tear down homeless encampments in Edmonton on Friday December 29, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

EDMONTON – The City of Edmonton says it has closed another homeless encampment that it considers high-risk.

It says the latest camp closure happened Saturday in the vicinity of the Herb Jamieson Centre, a homeless shelter just north of Edmonton’s downtown core.

The city says 20 structures and 19 occupants were removed, and there were no arrests.

Another encampment six blocks east was closed by the city on Friday.

Earlier this month, the city and a human rights group reached an agreement for eight camps that are considered a public safety risk to be taken down.

The agreement came when the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights sought an interim order in court for a pause of camp removals after police told social agencies they planned to remove a large number of camps.

“The City ensured full compliance with its obligations under the interim order, including providing advance notice to social agencies,” a City of Edmonton news release Saturday stated.

The interim order will last until Jan. 11, when court will hear an earlier injunction application from the coalition, which has launched a lawsuit against the city over its policy of removing homeless camps.

As part of the agreement for removing the eight camps, the city and police must issue notice to the people living in them, as well as make sure there are alternative accommodations available for the residents.

The city says two more high-risk encampment closures will occur by Jan. 3.

Sam Mason, president of the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights, said last month that shelter data shows there is not enough space and many people feel encampments are a safer option.

He also expressed concern that available space doesn’t accommodate families, pets or items like bikes or shopping carts.

The city says an encampment may be assessed as high-risk if there is a serious risk of injury or death due to things like fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, drug use, gang violence, or public health issues.

It says risk is also assessed based on its proximity to local amenities including schools and playgrounds, as well as the number of people and structures in the encampment.

A 54-year-old man and a woman believed to be in her 20s died in encampment fires during the first weekend of November.

Jeffrey Westman, a lawyer for the Edmonton Police Service at a hearing Dec. 18 for the interim order, described camp residents being burned alive, with tent materials melted to their skin. He also noted three sexual assault cases in a short period of time connected to “one or two” locations downtown.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2023.

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