July 12th, 2024

Alberta to provide help for people removed from ‘gang-run’ encampments in Edmonton

By The Canadian Press on January 17, 2024.

The Alberta government has announced new supports to find safe shelter for people removed from homeless encampments in Edmonton. Deputy Premier and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis is sworn into cabinet, in Edmonton, Friday, June 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

EDMONTON – The Alberta government announced new supports Wednesday to find safe shelter for people removed from homeless encampments in Edmonton.

Social Services Minister Jason Nixon said a new navigation and support centre is to provide targeted help to Alberta’s most vulnerable.

“We understand the issue of homeless encampments goes beyond the immediate need for shelter spaces,” Nixon said.

“Our goal is to get vulnerable people into much safer environments where they can access a range of supports, including mental health and addiction treatment, primary health care and income support.”

The news comes a day after an Edmonton court rejected a lawsuit by the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights to put restrictions on the city and police response to camps in certain situations, such as when temperatures get too low.

Police in Edmonton dismantled the last of eight homeless encampments deemed by the city to be high risk last week.

Mike Ellis, Alberta’s public safety minister, said action has to be taken to close down the camps, which he added have also become rampant with organized crime.

“These encampments have turned into gang-run drug camps that enable drug dealing, human trafficking, rape, crime, violence. They are not safe places to sleep, nor are they safe places to live,” he said.

“We know that organized crime and gang members “¦ are infiltrating encampments. They are violently enforcing tent taxes, forcing vulnerable people to pay for access to water, the ability to event pitch a tent or to access bridges and walkways.”

The province said staff at the centre are also to provide Indigenous cultural supports and liaisons, and connect people to shelter, housing and financial services, as well as help individuals obtain valid Alberta identification.

The action is supported by Grand Chief Cody Thomas, of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations.

“We are actually getting the supports that we need to heal our people. We’re at the table to assist them in finding those resolutions and not standing outside protesting,” Thomas said.

“It’s a very historical day when we can actually meet the needs of our people who are struggling.”

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said he has no idea how many tents are housing homeless people in the city,but he estimated it could be 1,200 to 1,500. He said action needs to be taken immediately.

“Quite frankly enough is enough. There is zero circumstances in which allowing these things to continue is OK “¦ not when there are available shelter spaces and not when there are services that can help,” McFee said.

He said shelter capacity in Edmonton has been about 74 per cent and there is room for many of those who choose to stay in the encampments. He said more action will be taken.

“We will do so at the speed needed to get the job done and the reception centre, obviously, is built to ensure we have a place to go and no tent is safe,” he said.

“Our goal is to try to get all these tents down and get people the services they need as soon as we can.”

The CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness said it seems as though the province is committed to criminalizing people who are experiencing homelessness.

“They’re effectively trying to reduce crime by arresting the victims,” said Tim Richter.

“None of this solves the underlying problem and will only hurt more people with little or no community safety or homelessness benefit.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2024.

– By Bill Graveland in Calgary

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