Cleanup reveals homeless legacy

Mouldly sleeping bags and other evidence of homeless people camping in the woods are turning up during the Green Deer campaign.

Darlene Emmons

Mouldly sleeping bags and other evidence of homeless people camping in the woods are turning up during the Green Deer campaign.

Some community volunteers who agreed to pick up litter around the city are finding more than they bargained for while spring cleaning in Red Deer’s parks and ravines.

Shirley Hocken, of the Riverside Meadows Community Association, said she discovered the remains of several long-deserted encampments while picking up garbage in a bushy area northwest of the People’s Place shelter last weekend. In one case, there was so much discarded clothing, dishes and camping items that Hocken didn’t think she should be handling it all herself.

“I couldn’t believe how much clothing there was, and bedding and all kinds of things,” said Hocken. She called the City of Red Deer’s bylaws department, which sent officers to pick up the debris.

Another community association volunteer came upon a closed tent in the woods that could have contained someone inside. Hocken said, the woman didn’t feel threatened, “she just thought she’d better leave the space alone.”

With the weather warming, there are growing indications that homeless people are once again camping in green places around the city, said Barb Barber, executive-director of the Central Alberta Women’s Outreach.

“I feel we are still facing the same issues as we did last year, about people’s income and their availability to rent a place…”

Barber hopes anyone who discovers someone living in the woods will notify the city parks department, which will, in turn, advise the Co-ordinated Community Outreach Team.

The team, made up of representatives from various social service agencies, is getting ready to embark on the first walk-about of the season. Barber said one goal will be helping homeless campers find better accommodation.

She’s unsure whether people are living in tents because the homeless shelter or mat programs are full, or for some other reason. And a representative for People’s Place could not be reached for comment on Monday.

But Patrick Simper, the city’s traffic enforcement and bylaw co-ordinator, said he felt last fall that headway was being made in reducing the homeless problem with various local options, such as the Buffalo Hotel transitional housing project.

Simper agreed that the city parks department should be notified whenever someone comes across a homeless camper.

Hocken did the right thing by calling his bylaws department about the pile of debris she found in the bush, said Simper, who added people in similar situations can also dial the police complaint line — particularly if needles or syringes are discovered.

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