Lac La Biche County tore down a homeless encampment on April 22, citing the Community Standards Bylaw. According to the County, the land it is on has become unsightly and a nuisance property.
Around 10:00 a.m. this morning, the sound of chainsaws could be heard in downtown Lac La Biche as roughly 10 county employees were on site, some clearing trees so bobcats could make their way to tear down the structures in tent city while a garbage truck idled nearby.
The homeless people had 20 minutes to collect their belongings to vacate the land which is privately owned and is scattered with human feces.
The decision was made by elected officials after several notices were given to the landowner after a complaint was made.
There was a request by the property owner to remove the trespassing individuals but he changed his mind in recent weeks enabling the people to stay. Now the County says he is violating the County’s Community Standards Bylaw therefore the camp is being removed today.
In a recent council discussion of the tent city, Coun. Lorin Tkachuk said, “I think as a council we gave this direction pretty clearly in the past.”
This is not the first time this type of camp has been removed in Lac La Biche. The issue has been ongoing for roughly three years. The solution is not going to be an overnight thing, the prior camp used to be located near the Vera M. Welsh Elementary School. When it was removed the trespassers just switched locations.
“I understand they’re going to bounce around and we need to come up with a better solution,” Councillor Tkachuk said in a recent council meeting.
A resident in the town of Lac La Biche reached out to Lakeland Connect to voice her concerns about the homeless camp, but asked her name be withheld out of concern for her safety.
“There is something that is not being highlighted here with all of this,” The resident said. “Yes, there are homeless people that live there, but it is also a hub in town for all the drug dealers and people using to hang out all day and have parties. There is a residential community close by that has felt the effects of the drug use. When people go there to get high and then go home and abuse their parents. The county is working on getting the homeless situation solved.”
The resident also said there is a lot of violence there.
“There have been reports of knives being pulled and people nearly being stabbed,” said the resident.
Chevi Rabbitt is a social human rights advocate from Edmonton, she is also a committee member with the National Pan Canadian Voice for Woman’s housing and a housing advocate.
“Shame on the politicians in this community,” Rabbitt told Lakeland Connect. “This community is an example of what not to do to the most vulnerable sector of the community. Instead of focusing on solutions and being proactive they have decided to be tyrannical. I ask the county council of this town… Do you feel powerful now by bullying the poor and helpless?”
The long-term plan for homelessness, vagrancy, drug, alcohol, and mental health issues is part of the mandate for the new Transitional Housing Committee in Lac La Biche. Area stakeholders on the new committee have just begun discussions on the issue, with some initial strategies expected in the coming weeks.
Lakeland Connect reached out to the County to ask how much the cleanup today cost and what the next steps are to help solve this issue. A response has not yet been received.