• Thu. Sep 22nd, 2022

Mayor Gondek angrily denounces repeated demining of homeless camp

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Dec 2, 2021

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Routine dismantling by police and bylaws of a tent camp outside a Calgary homeless shelter is intolerable and must be replaced with more permanent housing solutions, says Mayor Jyoti Gondek .

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The mayor reacted angrily on Wednesday to authorities sweeping a street just east of the Calgary visitor center that removed tents, shelters and trash, fearing the structures were blocking access to emergency vehicles.

When asked if there would be a moratorium on such actions, Gondek said they should not happen unless much better housing solutions are used.

“I have been very clear with the administration that if you remove people from where they have taken refuge, you better be able to take them somewhere else and, in the absence of that, we better find a place. best solution,” she said.

Driving the homeless from their makeshift encampment, she said, further dehumanizes an already marginalized population.

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“A cleanup is good when you remove debris, it’s not something when you remove people – it’s not something we will stand for,” she said.

“I don’t know what the answers are, but it’s got to be better than what we’re doing and we definitely need the provincial and federal governments to get it right.

That encampment sweep led to a special meeting of lawmakers, administrators and homeless advocates late Wednesday afternoon.

Those occupying the camp of tents and tarp shelters littered with trash said police and bylaw officers swept the area on Thursday morning, but by early afternoon the homeless were already returning to settle in for another freezing night.

They said there are normally 30 to 40 shelters housing 70 to 80 people set up amid shopping carts full of goods, and the camp has grown in recent months.

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Cleaning sweeps, they said, are cruel and unnecessary.

“They leave us alone for a day and give us a sense of security, then take everything away. They kick us when we are down,” said Marcus Aubichon.

A woman occupying a slightly larger tent said she was treated like sub-humans during sweeps.

“The police are really not there for people,” Keisha Crowchief said, adding that many of their belongings are often thrown into garbage trucks.

“What would you say if someone came into your apartment and threw everything away? Can they mess up your business? »

Many of those living in the encampment say they were banned for weeks or months from the reception center after fighting with other clients.

One of them is Preston Montur, who said ‘the city is falling on us and all we’re trying to do is survive’.

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On Thursday, Preston Montur speaks to Postmedia outside the Drop-In Center.
On Thursday, Preston Montur speaks to Postmedia outside the Drop-In Center. Photo by Jim Wells/Postmedia

As he spoke, members of the outreach team from the reception center approached the camp members, handing them red nylon bags full of winter gloves and toiletries.

Native Friendship Center workers showed up to deliver food, socks and COVID-19 PPE from a red plastic cart.

A police SUV navigated between tents and tarp shelters moments after one of the male residents struggled on a dirty sidewalk, apparently under the influence of drugs, likely opioids, Montur said.

Homeless campers said they would welcome help with low-cost housing, but weren’t really confident they would ever see it.

“A lot of people here don’t trust anything, they’re tired of seeing all options closed,” Montur said.

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Gondek and Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said there are reasons for the sweeps, but adds that it is not a solution to the problem of chronic homelessness.

“There are legitimate criminal issues, but there is also a biohazard issue,” Carra said, referring to human waste and used needles.

“Some of the tents are defiled and destroyed, some people are throwing their tents. It’s just an unacceptable situation and we can’t go on like this.

Mental health and addictions issues need to be addressed, he said, noting that the city has approved permanent annual funding of $8 million for the Community Safety Investment Framework that would engage in the harm reduction and prevention.

Native Friendship Center worker Scott While delivers food to residents.
Native Friendship Center worker Scott While delivers food to residents. Photo by Jim Wells/Postmedia

“It is at the beginning and a housing-centric recovery would be at the end. . . the money for housing comes from all three orders (of government) working together,” Carra said.

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“There is a lot of work to do over the next year as we scale up into the next budget cycle.”

The problem outside its doors goes far beyond the reception centre, said its chief executive, Sandra Clarkson.

“It’s a terrible situation, but it’s a community problem, not a reception center problem,” she said.

While some people living in nearby tents have been evicted from the shelter, officials have had little choice while trying to keep staff and guests safe.

The shelter, which now averages around 500 people a night, still has capacity for more clients.

And she said the center was working to reduce barriers for those looking outside, while its efforts had found homes outside for 700 people since the pandemic began in early 2020. .

“There are better ways to serve people than sweeping people out of encampments,” Clarkson said.

-with files by Madeline Smith

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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