City of Edmonton expects ‘peaceful and voluntary closure’ of Old Strathcona camp by Sept. 28

After initially telling organizers of an encampment in Old Strathcona that they would have to vacate Wilbert McIntyre Park by Sept. 18, city officials said it will “delay enforcement actions temporarily.”

The city issued a notice to organizers of the Peace Camp, asking campers to remove all tents and other structures by 10 a.m. Friday.

That day, police and peace officers were on site, which led to further discussions between camp organizers and the city.

Read more: Discussions continue about encampment in Old Strathcona: city

“After coordinating visits to the camp by Homeward Trust and Boyle Street last week, today the city has issued a letter inviting local social service providers to visit the camp or contact the organizers if they have capacity,” the city said in a news release Monday.

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“In return, the camp organizers have announced today that they will voluntarily remove the camp on Monday, Sept. 28.”

Peace Camp spokesperson Cameron Noyes said this week will be about getting people connected with the social services they need and then placed in more permanent housing.

Read more: Organizers of Old Strathcona encampment given Friday deadline to leave

“Shelters are there for a reason but they should be a short-term stepping stone to real houses. That’s what we’re working on with YESS, Elizabeth Fry, Bissell Centre — getting those things together before the real cold comes,” he said.

“The organizations put the roofs over people’s heads. Right now we’re taking names and getting people — especially the most vulnerable people — into a place where they can take the housing.

“In our street family, street community, we have serious mental issues going on, we have serious addictions issues going on. So putting a roof over other people’s heads could be as much as group homes for people and transitioning homes for people. That can’t happen in shelters,” Noyes said.

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He added that the encampment in Old Strathcona was about making homelessness — and the need for more affordable housing — more visible. Peace Camp supporters would still like to see more outreach workers and addictions support workers on the streets and on call, as well as a supervised consumption site in area.

“We look forward to a peaceful and voluntary closure of the camp by the organizers,” said Rob Smyth, deputy city manager of Citizen Services.

“The city empathizes with those living outside. Our ultimate solution is for every Edmontonian to have a home. In the meantime, 24/7 shelters have spaces available to support people while they take steps forward on their path to housing.”

If any safety issues arise at the camp, the city said it will “respond with action.”

Read more: Federal government commits $1B for cities to buy motels, hotels for rapid-housing program

On Monday, the federal government announced a plan to spend $1 billion over the next six months so cities and housing providers can buy properties being sold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The details of the program fill what was seen as a gap in the Liberals’ decade-long national housing strategy.

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The Liberals say the program will create 3,000 new affordable housing units across Canada, and want all the funds committed by the end of March 2021, when the federal fiscal year finishes.

Noyes said the funding will make a difference for Edmonton’s unhoused community.

“Three thousand off the street nationwide is a really good start. For places like Vancouver, even like ourselves, it’s a little like a band aid on an axe wound.

“But it’s great that we have a federal government that will help us with something like that. We need that kind of support. We’re not going to get that from the provincial government,” he added. “It’s the municipal and federal government we can count on at the moment.”

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