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Body discovered as city and police dismantle 7th Edmonton homeless encampment

The City of Edmonton said the clean up of a homeless encampment deemed ‘high-risk’ was paused Sunday because a body was discovered at the site near 94 Street and 106 Avenue.

A spokesperson for the city said two people suffered burns and were transported to hospital after a fire at another homeless camp in the same neighbourhood on Sunday, and she notes the fires and explosions highlight the dangers of the camps as temperatures drop.

First responders were called in to attend to the deceased person and also clean up an unrelated propane tank explosion.

The camp that was cleared Sunday was the seventh that the city has dismantled in recent weeks in accordance with an interim court order, which was granted after city and a human rights group reached an agreement for eight camps that are considered a public safety risk to be taken down.

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

During the encampment clean up, city crews dismantled 20 structures which housed about 15 people.

Six truckloads of waste were removed from the site plus one full large waste bin. Five shopping carts were collect and 30 needles.

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In a statement, the City of Edmonton said encampments may be assessed as high-risk based on whether “there is a serious risk of injury or death due to fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, drug use, gang violence, physical violence including weapons, public health and/or sanitation risks, environmental degradation and/or criminal activity. It is also assessed based on its proximity to local amenities including schools and playgrounds, the number of people and structures in the encampment, if the location has previously been an encampment site and how long it has been in place.”

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The city said it had received confirmation from the provincial government that there was sufficient shelter capacity for those leaving the encampment site.

Global News spoke with one man who was losing his home.

“If we have to move, we have to move,” he said. “It’s sad that it’s so cold and we have to move all of our stuff. Not sure where we’re going to go next, [we] choose to stay outdoors because [we] want to stay together.”

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“It’s a knee-jerk reaction,” said Nadine Chalifoux, the chair of the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.  “It’s not an actual thought-out process. The city made a change to its policy that said smaller encampments, of less than 20-25 people, could be moved into shelter space. It still doesn’t tackle the issues of why some people can’t be in shelters.”

“To be honest, they have to scrap the whole thing and start fresh because it should be an encampment bylaw it should be a housing bylaw,” Chalifoux added. “These bylaws aren’t doing anything for the people on the street. It’s not going to build them houses, it’s not going to bring social services so that they can have more supports, it’s not going to do any of those things which are the solutions to this crisis of houselessness.”

Chalifoux suggested the city consider reopening a large space, like the Expo Centre or Edmonton Convention Centre, where supports and services could be accessed all at once, similar to what the city did during the pandemic.

Jordan Morgan, a volunteer with the Indigenous-led Water Warriors, echoed similar comments about shelters not be accessible for everyone.

“Alot of these individuals chose to not be in these specific settings for a reason, whether its religious beliefs, there’s couples, or pets, things like that- I guess with even couples, even pets- that’s your support,” Morgan said. “Maybe it’s a matter of some other social or supportive housing options becoming available to help these individuals who may not find a place within that shelter system.”

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An eighth encampment is expected to be dismantled on Monday.

with files from the Canadian Press

Click to play video: 'Gangs infiltrating Edmonton homeless encampments, preying on vulnerable'

Gangs infiltrating Edmonton homeless encampments, preying on vulnerable

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