Part of a constructed wooden “tree house” belonging to rough campers. It was found north of Red Deer’s Riverside Light Industrial Park. (Contributed photo).

Rough camper “tree house” found hidden in Red Deer woods

“This took a bit of work,” says man who discovered it

The “tree house” is 15-feet long with a wooden railing, several levels and a seating area.

Jason Hives says he’s seen all kinds of rough sleeper camps, and was pretty impressed by this one.

“If I was a kid, I would be all over this,” he noted — only Hives stressed that children should not be anywhere near this homeless encampment, which included empty beer cans in a milk crate.

The rather well built architectural camp was found amid sawed-down trees in the bushy area between Parkland Mall and Riverside Light Industrial Park on Thursday afternoon.

Hives, an administrator for the Community Crime Watch Facebook page, had received a tip from a city resident that some people were hauling boxes from a car into this woody area — so he decided to investigate.

At first, he didn’t notice the hidden tree house, only the felled trees that provided some of the space and lumber for it.

After close scrutiny, Hives spotted a “tunnel” leading under some foliage. He discovered the well-crafted wooden tree fort with several levels, and milk carton seating.

There was no one there, but clearly “there was some skill and talent used … this took a bit of work,” he said.

Hives added it’s “too bad this person is putting their talents to waste” by creating an illegal dwelling in the woods. He reported the camp to Red Deer peace officers, who gave the inhabitants 72-hours notice to vacate before the camp is disassembled.

Hives believes they will probably relocate elsewhere, possibly cutting down more trees in a park next time. He wants the city to impose penalties on rough campers who repeatedly ignore offers of help from agencies and set up illegal camps.

Maybe they should get their belonging confiscated or serve a few days in jail, he suggested.

But Bart Rowland, the city’s acting superintendent of municipal policing services, doesn’t think jail time will help people with addictions or mental health issues. And he doubts the city could legally seize their belongings.

“We prefer to work with agencies to try to help these people.”

Parks Superintendent Trevor Poth believes addictions are keeping many of the rough sleepers outdoors. If these can be conquered he believes the campers would be more receptive to housing offers.

Rough sleeper camps are not just tents. Poth said parks workers have had to pull down all sorts of structures. A few years ago, generators, televisions and cook stoves were pulled from an island in the middle of the Red Deer River.

Poth said there are many reasons to evict rough campers, including park destruction. But primarily it’s about public safety. “People are extremely uncomfortable walking by these encampments,” and there’s danger from used needles and other debris.

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