A three-member city parks crew has ensured quicker cleanup of homeless camps in Red Deer.
Doug Evans, supervisor for the biodiversity section with the city’s Parks and Public Works department, said the dedicated crew works five days a week to locate camps and provides more eyes in forested areas.
“(The crew) worked out really well for us this year. They are out there constantly doing sweeps. They’re able to see the build-up of these camps before they get too big, and they’re able to deal with them before they become really problematic,” Evans said.
“I can’t say enough about our crew. These folks are just great.”
So far this year, 580 homeless camps have been dismantled and cleaned up. Twenty of them were spotted by Red Deerians who alerted the city.
Evans said a lot of the camps are hidden far back in forests, so residents don’t see them, especially when trees are covered in leaves.
The three-person crew will clean up smaller camps during the week, and Thursdays are set aside as camp cleanup day for the rest.
Parks staff have spent 5,632.5 hours on cleanup, which doesn’t include EMS or peace officers who may accompany parks workers, and the parks department has spent $295,010.34 on the issue as of the end of last week.
Some camps are abandoned while others are inhabited, in which case campers are given 72 hours pack up their belongings and leave.
He said common places for camps are in the Red Deer River valley and along creeks, but they can be found around the city.
“We’ve cleaned up camps south of Delburne Road, behind Westerner Park. We’ve cleaned up camps on the very north outskirts of the city and everything in between.”
Common items found in camps include tents, propane tanks, clothing, bedding and barbecues, but campers will also tote bags of garbage from commercial or residential dumpsters to their camp where they open them to rummage through. So the range of debris left behind “would boggle your mind,” he said.
So far this year 3,472 syringes were collected at camps by parks staff. But Evans said it doesn’t mean everyone at homeless camps use drugs.
“(Homelessness) is quite a large and complicated problem. It’s such a dynamic social issue,” Evans said.
He said it’s difficult for any one agency to solve such a complex issue, but community agencies are working hard and trying their best. Municipalities are also looking to collaborate and get more parties involved to find proactive solutions.
In 2020, city parks workers and peace officers cleaned up more than 350 camps from parks and trails. In 2018, there were 240 camps cleaned up.