Old Strathcona homeless encampment dismantled: ‘We had to leave eventually’

The homeless encampment in Old Strathcona was in the process of being dismantled on Thursday morning.

The Peace Camp has been set up in Old Strathcona for months — first at Wilbert Mcintyre Park then at Light Horse Park.

Read more: Old Strathcona encampment moves, sets up at new park several blocks away

Organizers said city police and peace officers arrived at around 7:30 a.m. Thursday to begin taking down tents and removing other items from the camp, adding the takedown was done peacefully.

“They’ve been really patient with them, respectful. I don’t have anything negative to say about them, it’s their job,” camp volunteer Christina Usborne said.

Camp organizers gave the city an end date of Oct. 31 and on Thursday there were still about 35 to 40 people living at the site. While they knew this day was coming, they said it didn’t make moving out any easier.

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“We had to leave eventually,” said Jason Smith, who has been living at the camp.

On Thursday morning, he wasn’t sure where he would go.

“Probably over by the Mill Creek or near Kinsmen or maybe somewhere around the university. I don’t know yet.”

A homeless encampment in Old Strathcona is torn down Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.
A homeless encampment in Old Strathcona is torn down Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. Chris Chacon, Global News

Organizers and volunteers said the camp provided a sense of community for people.

“A lot of people are sad,” said Vde Duncan, who has been volunteering on site since September. “This is the only home they’ve had for the past couple of months and it’s been safe, for the most part.”

“I think the campers and us all feel sad,” organizer Kevin Bell said. “There’s a lot of solidarity, there was a real sense of community. We had a lot of people that were housed who came back because of the sense of community.”

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Read more: Edmonton Convention Centre to open as temporary homeless shelter Friday

Volunteers and a shuttle from Boyle Street Community Services were on hand to take people to the Convention Centre downtown, where a temporary pandemic shelter has been set up for the winter to house the city’s most vulnerable. However, many didn’t want to leave.

“We knew it was coming this morning but again, a lot of people don’t want to cross the river,” Usborne said. “A lot of sadness and not sure what they’re going to do.

“They were really unsure because a lot of the other shelters run the same kind of system. They are expecting it (the Convention Centre) to be exactly the same as everywhere else — no privacy — that’s a big thing. In a tent they have privacy. In a room full of 300 people they don’t.”

Temporary housing for those experiencing homelessness opens Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 at the Edmonton Convention Centre.
Temporary housing for those experiencing homelessness opens Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 at the Edmonton Convention Centre. Sarah Komadina, Global News

Duncan echoed those sentiments, saying there were several people who wanted to stick it out at the camp.

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“Some of them are actually packing up and just going to the river valley because they don’t want to go to a shelter.”

The housing at the Convention Centre opened at the end of October and has the capacity to accommodate up to 300 people for both day and overnight services. The 24/7 accommodation space is operated by Boyle Street Community Services, The Mustard Seed, Bissell Centre and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. It is slated to be open until the end of March.

Another shelter also opened earlier this week in south Edmonton’s Ritchie neighbourhood.

“They’re trying to do their best but they need to listen to the people, they need to know what’s important to the people,” Usborne said of the city’s effort to provide housing.

“I just feel for the people. We don’t want to see anybody on Edmonton streets homeless over the winter. They’re not going to make it. It’s going to be a harsh and brutal winter this year and unfortunately, a lot of them have retreated back to their isolated camps.”

Click to play video 'Temporary homeless shelter opening in Edmonton’s Ritchie neighbourhood' Temporary homeless shelter opening in Edmonton’s Ritchie neighbourhood

Temporary homeless shelter opening in Edmonton’s Ritchie neighbourhood

Another homeless encampment that was set up in Edmonton’s Rossdale neighbourhood is slated to close this weekend.

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