As the weather warms, more homeless camps are being discovered in Red Deer’s wooded parks system.
About 85 “rough sleeper camps” have been cleaned up by the city on the first five months of the year, while 64 camps were previously cleaned up from September to November, said acting city manager Lisa Perkins.
The main difference is spring camps are mostly “active,” with campers still using them. The fall camps have been found mostly abandoned, perhaps because of the colder weather coming.
In case city residents stumble upon a makeshift camp in the woods, Perkins wants to make the public aware of the municipal policy in addressing them.
She said the city’s goal is to close the camps and clean up the area, to keep the public safe and enjoying the park system, while also providing rough campers with some better and safer housing options.
“Our strategy is to ensure the safety of all,” said Perkins, who noted many city departments are involved in a collaborative approach. This includes social planning, municipal policing, and the parks department.
The City of Red Deer will spend $500,000 cleaning up dozens of homeless camps over the next two years. During budget talks, city council approved spending $300,000 this year and another $200,000 in 2019 tackling the growing numbers of homeless camps spread throughout the city.
Citizens who find camps are asked to contact the RCMP’s non-emergency line (403-343-5575), or the city’s bylaws complaint line to make a report. A municipal enforcement officer will be sent out to the site.
If campers are found there, the camp’s location will be provided to a social support and housing outreach team, who will refer them to appropriate housing services.
There will be a 24-hour eviction notice served, and parks workers will then clean up the camp, including any debris found in the area.
Perkins acknowledged there are some homeless people who prefer sleeping outdoors to sleeping in shelters. But this is neither a safe, nor an environmental option, so the city will keep encouraging them to seek more appropriate housing.
Perkins said statistics will be gathered this year to determine how effective the city’s approach is to closing rough sleeper camps.