'Tried everything': Mill Creek Ravine neighbourhood says encampment is high risk

“We have asked the police officers, who have been wonderful in trying their hardest to deal with the camp, if we rent a garbage bin at our own cost and clean it up ourselves and they have said it is not safe because of the needles and feces”

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Encampments aren’t just a thing on the streets of Edmonton’s core. 

A burgeoning encampment among the shady trees of Mill Creek Ravine is prompting neighbourhood residents to protest.

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Homeowner Jessica Therrien lives near 93 Street and 78 Avenue with her partner and young children.

Therrien has sent multiple emails and filed repeated complaints about the rag-tag assortment of tents and detritus that has continued to spread and morph where children once threw stones in the brook.

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Just 20 metres behind her unfenced property line, the detritus begins.

There are tents, a crude earth shelter area dug into the side of the ravine, logs and lawn chairs.

Foul things — needles, feces — are littered.  

“And garbage everywhere,” she said. “We’re a bit lost for what else to do.

“We’ve tried everything, and the police are at their wits’ end.”  

More than 10 calls to 311 about the camp have yielded no visible action.

“According to the city’s ‘encampment team response process,’ high-risk camps are to be cleaned up within one to three days of investigation. This is now four months,” Therrien said.

The camp has the hallmarks of a high-risk encampment— needles, human feces, massive environmental degradation, propane tanks and proximity to schools or playgrounds. It is steps away from a treehouse used by neighbourhood children.

Jessica Therrien looks over the homeless encampment in Mill Creek Ravine near her King Edward Park home, in Edmonton Monday Jan. 01, 2024. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Camps are deemed high risk by the city for several reasons, including fire risk. The number of occupants and structures are other reasons. Camps with six or more people, eight or more structures, and that remain for 26 days or longer can be deemed high-risk.

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Occupants being unable to protect themselves from the elements, drug poisonings, lack of Narcan or Naloxone and a large amount of needles are other factors. Crime and problems with sanitation are other factors.

Edmonton city council agreed last year to spend in excess of $3 million more annually in hopes of speeding up the city’s response to homeless encampments in 2024. The goal is to respond to complaints about encampments within three to five days, speed up how quickly torn-down campsites are cleaned, reduce complaints the high-risk encampment teams deal with, and “increase hygiene opportunities for encampment occupants.”

Open propane tank fires in the driest fall 

The calls started in September — about the time a neighbour walking a dog saw a fire with open propane tanks — in the driest fall on record.

“We were doing fall clean-up and there were just weird things — a whole piece of a chimney, tarps and things,” Therrien said.

“Considering our dry summer of forest fires, we called the city immediately,” she said.

Eventually, beat police in the area removed the initial propane tanks themselves.

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“We have asked the police officers, who have been wonderful in trying their hardest to deal with the camp, if we rent a garbage bin at our own cost and clean it up ourselves, and they have said it is not safe because of the needles and feces,” she said. “Thus, a high-risk camp.”

A treehouse built by previous area residents is now deemed unsafe for the kids. Neighbourhood kids are told not to go into the ravine without an adult.

Therrien said while the construction crew contracted by the City of Edmonton was repairing the ravine, they were hassled by the ravine’s unauthorized residents. Someone defecated around their Port-a-Potty (not in it.) And then it was set on fire.

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“We understand that homeless camp cleanup is a complex subject, especially considering the current camp cleanups Downtown. If the city has deemed those high-risk enough to clean up, why has it not cleaned up the camp steps from our house?

“It’s just curious. Why clean out Downtown camps before others that have fires in the forest?” she wondered aloud.

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Is it about visibility? Out of sight, out of mind? Or is it a matter of low-hanging fruit?

“The police have also said they’ve found if a camp removal crew needs to walk beyond easily accessible areas, they’re reluctant to do so,” she said.

Therrien said the neighbours would like the camp cleaned up and the ravine repaired to its natural state — with enforced “no camping” — so the community can safely enjoy it again.

She gets why it’s a complex issue, and why encampment denizens might consider it a safe and cozy spot, somewhere they could bring a little dog or a cat, and that they may treasure the cultural variety of nearby Whyte Avenue, the shelter of trees and the creek valley — the same things that drew her and her family, set in a mix of new and old construction, a blend of families, single and multi-family homes.

“It’s such a systemic problem,” Therrien said.

“I think there needs to be some realization of public safety, too.

“I’d like (the encampment unhoused) to go somewhere that’s safe for them … I’d like this camp cleaned out and the ravine repaired so the community can use it again,” she said. 

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