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Encampments FAQ

Note: I added updates to this post on September 8th and October 2nd. Please scroll to the bottom to read it.

Something that has received a lot of attention lately: tents and other encampments in the City.

There has been a lot of questions raised, especially concerning the area surrounding Rotary House. Some want those living in these encampments dealt with more sternly. And some think the City’s approach is too tough considering the lack of treatment and daytime shelter services in our community. I don’t think anyone thinks the current situation is ideal.

Because there is so much concern, I want to discuss the questions I receive most frequently.

But before I do, I want to offer some push back on two suggestions I’ve had pitched to me. Those are:

  • “Lock all those people up.” I certainly think that we should prosecute property and violent crime whenever possible. However, I don’t buy that every person living in encampments is a serious criminal. I do think that the vast majority are struggling with mental health and addictions. And jail isn’t a solution to those problems. It is also worth noting that the courts are outside of City jurisdiction and would not jail these people, even if Council wanted that to happen.

  • “Leave the encampments alone: they aren’t harming anyone.” On an emotional level, it doesn’t sit well with me that we are dismantling encampments on vulnerable people. However, encampments raise a number of concerns. The big ones to me are inadequate physical security and sanitation. Encampments have large risks, both for the people living in them and the wider community. We need to ensure that the people living in them have other places to go. But we shouldn’t allow people to camp on City land.

I also want to push back against those who suggest that these encampments and the challenges related to them make our community a horrible place to be. I wholeheartedly disagree. Our city certainly has challenges: I won’t minimize that. But it is the only place I want to raise my kids: it is beautiful, it has lots to do, it is safe, and it has amazing people. Grande Prairie is where I’ve chosen to make my home, and I am very proud of it.

Following are some questions I frequently receive and some information to respond to them.


Is camping allowed on City owned land?

No, it is not. There are bylaws against it. Those have not been recently changed. There has also been no direction from Council to allow camping on City land.


How does the City respond to encampments?

Parks and enforcement staff do regular patrols of our public spaces. They also follow up on reports from the public. When they become aware of an encampment throughout the City, they give 24 hours notice to vacate. If no one is present to receive this notice, they physically post it on the tent or other shelter. After the 24 hours, they remove the encampment.

In the case of Rotary House, encampments are removed weekly barring irregular circumstances.

Usually, most of what is left at an encampment is garbage. It is thrown out.


What does the City do with ID and Valuables?

The City does not intentionally throw out valuables and ID. They do their best to find it, but don’t dig too deeply into bags due to the potential of being pricked by needles or encountering other dangerous objects.

Usually when ID is found, the individual is known to staff. They will try to seek that person out. If the owner isn’t found, ID and valuables will be left at Rotary House or the RCMP station for pickup.

One person this year has had their ID discarded. That was not an intentional action by staff, but our management acknowledges that it happened. They are doing their best to insure it doesn’t happen again while also ensuring the safety of staff.

How many people are tenting? Who are they?

Last Friday, staff did their best to count all the encampments in the City and talk to the individuals living in them.

37 tents were counted, housing 66 individuals. 60 said they had lived within an hour drive of Grande Prairie for a long time. Most (if not all) are dealing with severe mental health problems and/or addictions.

Why are people in encampments?

People are NOT in tents because of lack of night time shelter space. There has been room in Rotary House every night since March. But the province has recently required Rotary House to strengthen some of its rules. This has caused some to choose not to access it. They don’t want to be woken and kicked out at 7am, or they don’t want to sleep apart from their partner and/or their belongings.

However, the biggest reason people are citing for staying in encampments isn’t for night time shelter. It is because of the lack of daytime places for them to be. The lack of daytime shelter space is a very large contributor to this problem.

Why are there so many tents around Rotary House?

The impression of our staff in Enforcement Services and Parks is that there aren’t dramatically more tents in the City this year compared to previous years. However, there are certainly a lot more around Rotary House.

There has been a consolidation of encampments. Individuals who would often find different spots throughout the City are choosing to camp together near Rotary House.

There are a few reasons that individuals have cited for staying close to others. These include ensuring they are visible for the sake of advocacy, the ability to protect one another, and organizing to keep encampments cleaner.

Are these encampments sanitary?

Public health and sanitation is a big concern surrounding encampments: they don’t have sinks and toilets. There is not currently a large concern about this, but it is a situation City staff are monitoring closely. One benefit of encampments being close to Rotary House: people can go inside to use proper facilities.

What’s going to happen in the winter?

The City is currently working with community partners to find both daytime and night time shelter in our cold months. I don’t currently have anything I can share publicly. However, I have full confidence our community will have options in place to ensure people can get in from the cold. If my confidence waivers, you’ll be hearing me make as big a racket about it as I can make. I strongly believe we can’t let people freeze on our streets. I’m confident that view is shared by Council, City management, and most people in our community.

Why aren’t there police at these encampments?

There is police and bylaw enforcement happening. There is a daily presence of law enforcement around Rotary House and in other challenging parts of our community. They issue fines and make arrests when appropriate.

Our staff do occasionally issue fines for repeat offenders camping on City land. However, this problem can’t be solved through enforcement. There are several reasons for that:

  • Often there are no viable alternatives for people. This is especially true for things like loitering. The Crown has made it VERY clear to our police that they will not prosecute people for camping out when we don’t have viable alternatives (like a daytime shelter) for them.

  • Often the punishment is counter-productive to solving the problem. Fines are the usual punishment for breaking a bylaw. In this case, they often don’t work. The person receiving it would be unable and unlikely to pay it, and they won’t be going to jail for non-payment (see the point above). And, if they do access programs to become healthier, having that fine can can be a significant barrier to better integrating into the community.

  • Most importantly: this isn’t a criminal justice problem. Individuals who commit property crime are arrested and prosecuted whenever possible. However, arresting people who are just breaking City bylaws by living in a tent won’t solve anything. Mental health and addictions don’t get solved by fines and criminal charges.

I do want to also address property crime. That is different than breaking a bylaw like camping on City land. It should (and is) treated differently. However:

Even when someone is suspicious, the police cannot act on it without evidence. This is especially true for property crime. In Canada, police can’t arrest someone for having something that doesn’t seem to belong to them, nor can they confiscate the property. They can only act if they have proof the property was illegally attained. Canadian law also limits how and when police can search people.

What is the City doing to help people living in encampments?

The City supports a large number of organisations and programs serving our vulnerable population. We’re also working hard to find additional resources. Three big areas of focus:

  • Housing: The City already has helped create a number of subsidized and supportive housing units: you can see a list here (click “Past Work on Affordable Housing”). We’re currently working with several organisations (including Canadian Mental Health Association, Metis Local 1990, and Habitat for Community) to get more projects going. Additionally, the City is in the late stages of creating a housing strategy: it should be approved early in the fall.

  • Daytime Shelter: A lot of people living in encampments said that they don’t need them for overnight accommodations. Their problem is that they have no where to be and to keep their possessions during the day. A big reason this issue has become so big this summer is because the province shut down the Saint Lawrence Centre. The Saint Lawrence Centre is still connecting with the people who used it, and is making good progress towards finding a new home. Additionally, the City is working with a few other organisations in town to secure daytime shelter space. I’m optimistic that we will have some good solutions very soon.

  • Advocacy: This is an issue driven by mental health and addictions. Unfortunately, there is not adequate treatment for people. This gives them no hope of getting well enough to get a better place to be than encampments. However, the City cannot provide treatment: it isn’t within our legislated responsibility, and it isn’t something municipalities have the fiscal capacity to provide. There are also big problems relating to courts and jails that are adding fuel to our community’s challenges, but the City doesn’t run the justice system. Council has met with MLAs, provincial Cabinet Ministers, our MP, and civil servants to advocate for change. We’re continuing to advocate for our community and the people in it at every opportunity.


Where can I get more information?

If you want to know more, I’m happy to chat. My preferred way to do that is by meeting for coffee, but I’m also willing to talk online or on the phone.

However, if you have specific questions about what the City is doing on an operational level: you are likely to get better answers by talking to our staff. The best way to contact them is through the Citizen Contact Centre.

This topic is also very linked to the Opioid Crises. You can find more information about how it is impacting Grande Prairie and what is being done to address it at www.everyoneisimpacted.com


This is definitely a very tough topic. So, thank you for taking the time to read this.

-Dylan


Sept 8 Update

Since I wrote the above post, the City, along with some of our partner agencies, has established a Temporary Transition Site (TTS). This is on vacant land next to City Hall at 10039 - 98 St. Tents will be allowed there while more appropriate accommodations are put into place. This should only last a couple of weeks.

The intention of the TTS is to increase safety and sanitation while decreasing social disorder. With this in mind, it has staff and security on site and it also features perimeter fencing to control access as well as lighting and sanitation. The onsite rules are consistent with rules in existing permanent shelters.

Work is being done to get daytime shelter space available, and to get a Winter Emergency Response Program established to provide extra overnight space when the permanent shelter is full. These should both be operational in early October. At that time, the TTS will be dismantled.


October 3 Update

The City and community partners have been working hard to come up with better solutions to homelessness in our community.

The St. Lawrence Centre is again providing daytime drop-in services at Rotary House. The City is working on securing a permanent site for daytime shelter and support services.

The City has also initiated a Winter Emergency Response Program to provide overflow nighttime sleeping during the winter season.

Now that other options are in place, the Temporary Transition Site (TTS) has been closed and dismantled. There is no longer any place where temporary encampments are permissible.

More information about the TTS project can be found here.