Edmonton sets new record in cruelty by clearing unhoused folks from same encampment twice in six days

The city of Edmonton in concert with the Edmonton Police Service have set a new record by evicting unhoused people living in tents from the same location twice in six days, with one of those evictions occurring during a heat wave. 

The encampment in question was located on 105A Avenue between 96 and 97 Street near the Bissell Centre and was home to dozens of unhoused people sleeping in tents. The first eviction happened on Thursday, June 8, the same day that the city of Edmonton activated its extreme heat response due to temperatures higher than 30 degrees Celsius.

In an email sent to non-profits and volunteer groups that work with unhoused people Hani Quan, the manager of housing policy and partnerships said that, “encampment closures will only be conducted when absolutely necessary.”

City of Edmonton staff dismantle an encampment on 105A Avenue between 96 and 97 Street on June 14, 2023. 

When I followed up and asked what was it about this site that made it absolutely necessary to close it during a heat wave, Chris Webster, a communications person with the city of Edmonton said, “It is only after careful consideration of the impacts to both community safety, including for those living in encampments, that a decision will be made to close an encampment site during an [an extreme heat response] activation.”

What considerations those were weren’t revealed by Webster though he did reveal that the decision to evict these unhoused people from their homes was made prior to the extreme heat response being activated. Apparently it couldn’t be delayed. 

But it didn’t matter much as the site was swept again by a massive crew six days later on Wednesday June 14. There were nine city of Edmonton trucks, 20-30 city of Edmonton workers in Tyvek suits, five peace officers and five Edmonton Police officers at the second eviction. 

Workers from the Bissell Centre were out before the massive crew showed up handing out coffee and cookies and reminding people what was coming. Perhaps feeling sheepish that they had just evicted these people six days earlier, the police officers allowed the people living in this encampment to just move to the other side of the street. Most did but some left for other encampments, specifically ones further down 96 Street in the parking lots within view of the downtown police headquarters. 

“They’re basically just stealing our stuff,” said Johnny, a man who has been unhoused for 16 years who was evicted during the second eviction. “When the city shows up they don’t offer you housing, they give you a garbage bag. All these assholes will laugh at you as you pack up your life in front of them.”

“They don’t even come with paperwork. They just say 24 hours or 72 hours or sometimes less. Then they show up with 80 guys and 20 trucks and a bunch of cops just remove us from public property when there’s nowhere else for us to go,” said Johnny.  

The official reason given for sweeping the encampment by a police officer who oversaw the eviction was that because the encampment was deemed high risk. A newly created matrix that determines what is and isn’t a “high risk” encampment was obtained by the Progress Report. 

The newly created matrix that determines whether or not an encampment is "high risk." 

“If it’s more than 8 [tents] that’s an identified risk,” said Constable Luke McRae. With 18 tents in the area this encampment was deemed high risk. “I helped organize [the [encampment sweep]. This is a request from above,” said McRae. Another concern identified by McRae was that access to the sidewalk was being blocked. 

When asked about the fact that this sweep had just created another high-risk encampment with over 8 tents now on the other side of the street Cst. McRae said “There are no perfect solutions, we have to deal with the most inherent risk.” 

If an encampment has more than eight tents, six people living in it or has previously been used as a site for an encampment more than four times in the past year then it is deemed “high risk” and it gets an “accelerated response” and must be closed within 1-3 days.

Every Edmonton city councillor was informed of the fact that city staff and police were evicting unhoused people from the same encampment twice in six days. Only councillor Anne Stevenson, the councillor for the area replied. 

“Removing encampments is never a desired outcome. It’s disruptive to the people living in encampments, makes it harder for them to connect with supports, and doesn’t solve any of the underlying conditions behind encampments. That said, removing high risk encampments is part of the City’s enhanced encampment strategy, which focuses on maintaining both personal and community safety and rapid connections to housing. My hope is that as we continue to get people into appropriately supported housing and increase education and awareness about safety in encampments, we will see fewer high risk encampments that need to be removed,” said Stevenson. 

Jim Gurnett, a spokesperson with the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) was handing out supplies to unhoused people as the eviction was taking place. He noted that many city councillors, including Stevenson, attended a memorial to remember the 156 Edmontonians who died due to homelessness in 2022 that happened on June 7. The next day city staff would start their first sweep of the encampment on 105A Avenue. 

“It’s so devastating to their lives. You build a shelter and city staff throw it in the garbage, then a week later city staff come and do the same thing again. It’s cruelty.” said Gurnett. 

According to Homeward Trust, more than 3,000 people in Edmonton were unhoused in May, 58 per cent of them identify as Indigenous and fifth of them are under the age of 24. Edmonton is also seeing a spike in EMS calls for drug poisonings – carry Naloxone and check on folks if they’re down. Take care of each other out there.