The clean-up of land come to be known as ‘Tent City’ began last Thursday in the treed area between the north and southbound lanes of the QEII Hwy. – north of Gasoline Alley.
The site has been home to an average of 10 residents since the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society (CAANS) began visiting them in January at their illegal location on Alberta Transportation’s land.
In late 2014 Alberta Transportation was notified by Red Deer County RCMP to resolve the issue of squatters on their land. This led to the eviction of six residents from the site in January and eventually to the partnership with CAANS.
“We’ve been providing support on that site twice a week since January and we’ve known people have been living out there for longer,” explained Executive Director for CAANS, Jennifer Vanderschaeghe. “Because of our Night Reach program and our harm reduction programs, where we help people who are street and drug involved – it made sense to visit the people on the site.
“When it came time for Alberta Transportation to move forward they pulled us in as we had the most credibility with the people living there.”
She explained a group of around eight to 10 volunteers from a local organization known as Line of Hope, which provides meals and support to the homeless, have been working alongside volunteers from CAANS.
Two CAANS staff members have also been working since Thursday to clear the site of debris and garbage.
“What we’ve been asked to do is go in and continue to encourage people to move and to begin the clean-up,” she said. “If there is needle debris or other drug debris it needs to be cleaned up in an appropriate way, but also dealing with the garbage and getting it into the dumpsters provided by Alberta Transportation.
“The land is going to be cleared, the trees will be cut and we will go from there.”
She explained a security guard is on scene during the day, as when dealing with the matter of a person’s home, emotions can run high. She added they began calling the site ‘Tent City’ when they noticed the level of community present.
“It wasn’t just tents where people were living – you can see just by looking in photos that there are yards, fencing and even steps with banisters,” said Vanderschaeghe.
“Telling residents they have to move will ensure people are no longer disrupting traffic on the QEII, it will reduce the risk of someone getting hit by a vehicle and having that driver go through that trauma,” she said.
“But we would prefer there be some kind of permanent housing solution and long term support program to assist people sleeping rough, but for now cleaning the area up along with providing referrals and harm reduction programs is what we can do.”
She added there have been people sleeping rough in Red Deer for a long time at a number of sites and that until proper support systems are in place there will likely always be people sleeping rough in Red Deer.