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Latest version of 'tent city' torn down in Lac La Biche

Councillors expect a new camp will set up soon

A Lac La Biche's 'tent city' has been removed once again, and the over-riding social issues associated to the issue are continuing to be explored.

Under the authority of Lac La Biche County council, municipal peace officers have dismantled the latest version of a “tent city”  encampment that had been set up in the community's downtown area since before Christmas.

On Tuesday afternoon, at the private property near the downtown railyard that has become the latest home to cardboard and tarp-covered structures, peace officers and county crews were clearing the area. Councillors say the liability associated with the encampment — which was said to have fire-pits and an outhouse — along with  growing instances of crime in the area, garbage, rotten food and drug paraphernalia strewn across the property, as well as the social welfare factors all played a role in the long-overdue decision to take action.

About half a dozen people were believed to be staying in the camp in recent weeks. Many more, however, have been in the area, taking advantage of food and supply donations being left at the site by at least one community group trying to help the camp’s residents. In some cases, volunteers have gone to the camp to help fortify structures, bring clothing and hygiene products, and even leave firewood. Those donations, say some officials —  although well-intended — are making matters more challenging.

 Anita Polturak is the Manager of Lac La Biche County’s Family and Community Support Services. 

“The supplies being left at the encampment to be easily accessed have been a draw for people who normally wouldn’t be there,” she said, explaining that not all the people who have been staying at the camp are, by definition, homeless.  “Other people have homes to go to but have rules at home so it makes it easy to be there with access to food and supplies.” 

Polturak says efforts are continuing to address the underlying community and social issues relating to the recurring camps. 

Bigger issues

At their council meeting on Tuesday, elected officials say they realize that removing the camp isn't removing the issue. The solution is not going to be an overnight thing, said councillor George L'Heureux. Previous camps over the last several years were located in a wooded area in the Dumasfield residential area and another was most recently torn down from behind the schoolyard fences at Aurora Middle School and Vera M. Welsh Elementary.  

While council realizes that tearing the latest version down will likely only lead to another being built, the elected officials say they are trying to protect all community members — including those in the camps.

“I understand they're going to bounce around — and we need to come up with a better solution,” Councillor Lorin Tkachuk said. 

The people who had been staying at the camp were given notice of Tuesday’s demolition last Thursday.

Discussions continue

The long-term plan for homelessness, vagrancy, drug, alcohol and mental health issues are part of the mandate for a new Transitional Housing Committee in the community. Area stakeholders on the new committee have just begun discussions on the issue, with some initial strategies expected in the coming weeks.

The camp's removal is a developing story and the Lac La Biche Post will bring you more information when available. Check for updates.