Gord (only first name given) and Tina Williams are both living in a camp located in a wooded area north of Gasoline Alley between the north and southbound lanes of the QEII. The two say they and some of the other residents of the camp are trying to clean up the mess left by other people living in the area.

Nowhere else to go

A camp of homeless people live in the shadows of the Hwy 2, just a few steps from cars flying by at 120 km/h, on the south edge of Red Deer. The group that fluctuates from seven to 10 use the area for shelter because they say they have nowhere else to go. Gord, who did not want his last name used, said he lived at another camp in the woods near Red Deer College for eight months before he was kicked out.

A camp of homeless people live in the shadows of the Hwy 2, just a few steps from cars flying by at 120 km/h, on the south edge of Red Deer.

The group that fluctuates from seven to 10 use the area for shelter because they say they have nowhere else to go.

Gord, who did not want his last name used, said he lived at another camp in the woods near Red Deer College for eight months before he was kicked out.

“We’re surviving,” said Gord.

“I survived over by the college for eight months and now I just stay here because the cops made me come here.”

The Central Alberta AIDS Network visits the camp regularly to do outreach work. Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of the AIDS Network, said these people do receive social supports.

“There has always been a homeless camp there,” said Vanderschaeghe. “The reality is these folks are living outside because there aren’t enough supports to house them.”

Crackdowns on homeless camps in the core of Red Deer have pushed the camps into the north and south of the city.

“The reality is closing down that camp does not mean those people get housed,” said Vanderschaeghe. “It means they have to find a new location.

“They’re told you’re not allowed to live in these woods, so go and find another location. This is not a solution.”

Garbage and debris is strewn everywhere in the small patch of trees between the northbound and southbound lanes of Hwy 2. Gord said he and a few of the people who live there are working on clearing out the garbage left behind. He said he has only been at the location for a few days.

Among the garbage is needle debris, which annoys Gord.

Tina Williams said this is not her first time living at this camp, but she was forced there along with Gord when the camp at the college was broken up.

An admitted needle user, Williams was also disgusted at the needle debris saying she is responsible for properly disposing of needles she uses.

Williams said there aren’t enough housing options in the city.

A propane-powered generator on site provides heat and light. Gord said it costs the people who live there about $10 a day in gas, which is much more affordable than even camping at a designated area in town. But there is no wood burning at the camp.

Gord said it would be more expensive to live at a legal campground in Red Deer. The least expensive sites at Westerner Park Campground cost $520 a month in the winter or $835 a month in the summer. That does not include power or taxes.

Vanderschaeghe said in terms of a camp location, part of its value is its isolation. Located between the highway lanes, the camp has no neighbours.

“Moving them isn’t a good long-term solution to their housing issue,” said Vanderschaeghe.

“Someone else is just going to move in sooner rather than later.”

In January, Blackfalds RCMP and Alberta Transportation evicted about six people who lived there.

“Our concern is safety,” said Cpl. Phil Penny. “These people come and go by Hwy 2, which is dangerous for them and the drivers.”

Penny said getting emergency services into the spot is an issue. He said there have been reports of assault in the area before. It can be difficult to respond but police will assist as needed.

The land is owned by Alberta Transportation and could one day be used as part of changes to Hwy 2, which would lead to the forested area being cleared.

Spokesman Bob McManus said Alberta Transportation is working with local law enforcement and social service agencies, including the local AIDS Network, to come up with a solution to the problem.

“We were notified by RCMP and asked to resolve the situation,” said McManus. “We felt it would be best to meet with those agencies who can provide some kind of solution which is meaningful rather than just kicking them out.”

In 2009, a 41-year-old woman who had been camping in the same area was found dead.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com

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