Edmonton holds off on clearing final ‘high risk’ homeless encampment

EDMONTON- TELEGHRAPH: Police detailed the health and safety dangers of homeless camps in Alberta’s capital, as officers held off on taking down the eighth and final encampment they deemed to be “high risk” with a cold snap looming.

Edmonton police Deputy Chief Warren Driechel briefed media Tuesday on the service’s response to the camps, saying officers have taken down 120 structures affecting at least 100 people so far. Around 2,000 needles and 50,000 kilograms of waste were also removed in the takedowns, police say.

During the briefing, police showed reporters graphic photos and videos of people who had burned alive or died from overdoses at encampments. Driechel said safety remains the top concern as sexual assaults, explosive propane tanks and biohazards like needles and human waste continue put the community and city staff at risk.

Alberta encampment

“We wanted everybody to understand the impact of the people living on the street and the risk that they face daily from dying — whether it’s from an overdose, in a fire or being victimized by somebody else,” Driechel said.

Driechel said weapons are seized form encampments every day and officers often find booby traps such as tripwire connected to a fall device. He added bikes and bike parts are often seen piled near an encampment because they are used as currency in exchange for drugs.

Earlier Tuesday, Edmonton police said in a post on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, that officers discovered 60 weapons — including Samurai swords, machetes, knives, axes and imitation firearms — at the Dawson Park encampment in the city’s river valley last week.

As of Tuesday afternoon, some residents at a camp on the east side of downtown refused to leave and were surrounded by supporters, while police cleaned garbage around them. The city said in a news release late Tuesday that plans to close the camp had been “modified.”

Alberta encampment

A warming bus was provided to occupants while vacant structures and excessive debris were removed to reduce some of the risk, it said. The occupants remained.

Drieschel said the residents may be able to stay for another day, with frigid temperatures looming. Environment Canada is calling for nighttime temperatures of -35 C on Thursday and -37 C on Friday.

Driechel said as the temperature gets colder, police respond to encampment fires daily that put fences and nearby houses at risk. They have also seized hundreds of propane tanks.

Alberta encampment

Police have said a manwas discovered dead at an encampment north of Edmonton’s downtown over the weekend, prompting city officials to briefly pause their plans to clear the camp.

They say emergency workers were conducting wellness checks on residents following a propane tank explosion early Sunday, when they say the man’s body, unrelated to the explosion, was found in a tent.

Clearance of the camp continued later Sunday, and the city says 15 people were removed from the site as well as 10 propane tanks.

In December, Court of King’s Bench Justice Kent Davidson heard lawyers with the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights argue for a temporarily pause in the city’s dismantling of encampments until this week.

Alberta encampment

The judge agreed with the city that some encampments are affiliated with organized crime, pose a risk to community safety and needed to be taken down immediately.

The police and city have said there is enough shelter space for the displaced residents.

Chris Wiebe, a lawyer representing Edmonton’s Coalition for Justice and Human Rights, says the city relies on provincial data to determine if there is adequate shelter space but there is often not enough available.

“We don’t contest that encampments pose some safety risks, but encampment evictions seldom if ever address the risks,” he said.

Alberta encampment

The coalition brought its concerns to court Tuesday, arguing that clearing the camps violated Justice Davidson’s decision because it did not consider the impending cold weather. Wiebe says Davidson deferred any further interim decision until he hears the coalition’s official injunction application starting Wednesday.

Police say they will not condone an organized site for encampments because someone will have to manage it day-to-day.

Driechel said officers are not only having to discuss safety, but now have to discuss whether people are going to get arrested, which he says police don’t want.

“But at the same time, we’re going to have to look at how do we approach these in the future, and how do we restrict access to everybody so we can get the job done.”

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