Work was almost completed on Tuesday on a cleanup of a wooded area just north of Gasoline Alley between the north and southbound lanes of the QE2 Highway. Piles of trash

Tent city gone

A makeshift homeless camp dubbed tent city is gone.

A makeshift homeless camp dubbed tent city is gone.

Volunteers led by the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society spent the last few days since last Thursday cleaning up the site, filling five dumpsters and collecting 33 kg of needles and other drug-related paraphernalia.

Located between the northbound and southbound lanes of Hwy 2 just south of Red Deer, the small stand of trees has been home for around a dozen homeless people at any given time.

Alberta Transportation spokesman Bob McManus said the community, RCMP and province shared concerns about the safety of the site.

McManus said it was “just not a safe place for an encampment, not for the people there, nor for the people driving on a high-speed throughway like the QEII.”

A decision on whether the trees will be stripped out has not been finalized yet. Clearing will happen eventually because a flyover is proposed to fix the less-than-ideal situation on the highway that requires vehicles travelling south from Gaetz Avenue onto Hwy 2 to merge from the left.

AIDS Network Society executive director Jennifer Vanderschaeghe said they have been visiting the camp twice weekly since January providing outreach work and checking on the campers, some of whom were heating their tents with propane stoves or using generators for electricity.

While the society does not have housing funds, it works closely with organizations that do and will steer any of those now looking for a place to stay in the right direction.

Vanderschaeghe said when it came time to permanently disassemble the camp, those who work with the homeless offered their help.

Volunteers were given honouraria for their work and the AIDS Network Society was able to use the trust and relationships they had established with Tent City’s residents to lead the cleanup smoothly.

Vanderschaeghe credits the province for taking a respectful approach to the dismantling of what had become a home to a number of people.

For those helping the 50 or so people “sleeping rough” in Red Deer at any given time, one of the challenges is knowing where to find them. The tent city provided a consistent stopping spot for many.

However, that was more than outweighed by the safety issues surrounding location, which required its inhabitants to make their way across several lanes of one of Hwy 2’s busiest stretches.

Troy, 47, was among those who lived in Tent City, a spot he moved into last fall.

An oilpatch back injury ended his working career and he has not worked since 2008. He makes money by repairing anything that can be resold and collecting bottles.

He already has another place outdoors to move to.

“I always have an emergency camp, a place I can go if I have to,” said Troy.

As for the others, he doesn’t know where they plan to go. “I have no idea.

“They’re going to be camping in different spots all over the city.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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