Following multiple City Council meetings last week, Wetaskiwin City Councillors voted in favour of relocating the homeless encampment from Rock Soup Greenhouse and Food Bank and the neighbouring property to a city-owned property on the southside of Wetaskiwin.
At the Aug. 16, 2021 regular city council meeting an open mic session was held where over a dozen Wetaskiwin citizens stood before council and expressed their opinions and concerns over the current location of the homeless encampment.
Multiple open mic speakers expressed their concern for the encampment being so close to residential areas, and expressed that in the week since the shelter’s closure and move across the city that property crime and theft has gone up in the area.
One of the speakers, Craig Reid, spoke about the impact he has seen in his residential area since the tents and campers settled at Rock Soup and the surrounding property. He said, “since this has happened our area has been experiencing littering, graffiti, drug use, vandalism, weapons in the area, yelling and loitering.”
“I’ve witnessed first hand for myself and many others and I fear this is only the beginning if this illegal tenting is allowed. Though my main concern is for the safety of the children and the other families in the area. I can no longer send my children to the park to play on their own which has never been a problem until now. School starts in two weeks and they won’t be able to walk to school or bike.”
Other nearby residents spoke of increased incidents of home invasions, littering and destruction of property and asked for the city to enforce the removal of the illegal tent city, as the property they are on is not zoned for a shelter.
Assistant executive director at Rock Soup Greenhouse and Food Bank, Brandon Rehaume, also spoke at the open mic.
“I feel for everyone that is scared, we are scared too. We don’t want this either,” said Rehaume. “We are a food bank, we are not a shelter. We want the same thing as you, we want a better place for these people.”
“We don’t it to last any longer we just want someone else to do something and until someone else does something this is the best solution we have.”
Following the open mic, city council had a lengthy discussion on next moves following the stop order issued for the homeless encampment.
“I think we should go in there with a bulldozer and bulldoze it down,” Councillor Joe Branco expressed.
Other council members, including Mayor Tyler Gandam did not agree with Branco’s sentiments, citing that the council needed to come up with concrete resolutions.
City Council also received a delegation from Misty Griffith, executive director of Wetaskiwin FCSS, and discussed potential options for a shelter and questions from the city’s winter shelter subcommittee.
“Our long term goal is that the shelter will be the emergency where they almost get a triage, and then you move into transitional housing,” Griffith said. “This is not something we can put into place tomorrow.”
“That’s why we are coming to you, is to find out what we need, what can we make work and whether we need to start looking at federal funding, provincial funding, start doing fundraising and donations; it shouldn’t all fall on the city.”
This discussion continued at the Aug. 19, 2021 special city council meeting where city council directed Administration to work with the RCMP to provide the city’s vulnerable population a place to temporarily relocate.
At the special city council meeting, Commanding officer of the Wetaskiwin RCMP, Inspector Keith Durance implored council to make a decision on what actions were to be taken when it came to a homeless shelter. He said since the homeless population’s eviction from the Civic Building, the Wetaskiwin RCMP has seen a total of 26 complaints, and four arrests in relation to tensions surrounding the homeless encampment.
Following their discussion with Durance, Council decided to help relocate the homeless encampment to 5800 37A Avenue, a city-owned parcel located southwest of Walmart.
This property is zoned to allow discretionary use of temporary shelters as well as extended medical treatment services. The city says that those utilizing this short-term space will have access to toilets and garbage disposal.
“The City is working toward a solution that addresses the safety of the larger community as well as those experiencing homelessness,” said Gandam. “We understand that the location we approved as a temporary measure isn’t great, however, doing nothing isn’t an option. We will continue to work with the RCMP and our community peace officers to maintain the community’s safety and security.”
With this move, Wetaskiwin RCMP have agreed to increase the number of patrols on the southside of the city.
Wetaskiwin Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) continues to work with the city and other stakeholders as a member of the Guilding Coalition of Homelessness to find a long-term solution to address the needs of the city’s vulnerable population.