The garbage-strewn remains of a large homeless encampment has been discovered near the Red Deer River and Hwy 2.
The City of Red Deer is working with Alberta Transportation and CP Rail to determine whose land the camp is on.
While it lies outside of city boundaries, Red Deer parks workers or peace officers are prepared to help with the cleanup, as they have the know-how, said the Red Deer parks superintendent John Eastwood.
“It’s about keeping our parks safe, and our treed areas safe, so it’s a partnership on a lot of different levels,” said Eastwood.
He believes it’s important for the environment to remove the piles of garbage and debris from the riverbank. The city’s social planning workers also want to reach out to homeless campers to make them aware of safer housing options, including the overnight shelter run by Safe Harbour in the former Cannery Row Bingo building.
“With homelessness, it’s an all-encompassing situation,” added Eastwood.
While he hasn’t visited this camp site, located on the west side of a Hwy 2 overpass and bridge over the Red Deer River, he has seen photos of it.
The latest camp doesn’t appear as sophisticated as the tent city discovered some years ago on an island in the Red Deer River, which had generators, television sets and cooking devices that had to be removed.
Mostly garbage is visible, said Eastwood of the latest encampment site, discovered by someone hiking along the riverbank.
He encourages anyone who comes across any “rough sleeper camps” in the woods to report them to the city as a matter of public safety.
In 2020, City of Red Deer parks workers and peace officers cleaned up more than 350 camps from parks and trails. This far exceeds the 240 camps cleaned up in 2018.
Eastwood said it’s hard to know whether more homeless people are sleeping outdoors during the pandemic, or whether more camps are being discovered because parks workers have more time to focus on them.
The city spent $400,000 on the cleanup of rough sleeper camps and needle debris in 2020.
City councillors have bemoaned the lack of a local 24-hour homeless shelter. The provincial government has committed funding for one in its 2020 budget, but the project’s location and construction schedule is yet to be determined.