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Wednesday , 28 July 2021
Submitted Image/Lisa Marie Bourque

Homeless camp to be removed this Thursday by Lac La Biche County

Homelessness is an issue that spans all parts of the globe including the Lakeland Region. The warmth of the kettle for nine homeless people living in a makeshift ‘tent city’ in the Lac La Biche downtown area will go cold tomorrow as they are about to lose their makeshift shelter.

The homeless camp is located in a wooded area on private land and Lac La Biche County says it’s removing it on Thursday, April 22.

Jihad Moghrabi is the Manager of Communications for Lac La Biche County.

A picture from inside the camp shows how well constructed it is. Submitted Image/Lisa Marie Bourque

“The encampment is scheduled to be removed this Thursday,” Moghrabi told Lakeland Connect.

Discussions by elected officials in recent weeks has been wishy-washy. Under the authority of Lac La Biche County council, on Tuesday, March 23, the council said that municipal peace officers had dismantled the latest version of a “tent city” encampment that had been set up in the community’s downtown area since before Christmas. However, people are still living in tents there. Nothing has been torn down.

Images appeared on social media on Friday, March 26, confirming the camp was still there and showed how well constructed the homeless camp was which appeared neat and tidy.

“The area is located next to the tracks in the downtown core, and has been the subject of multiple complaints to our Enforcement Services department,” Moghrabi explained. “Both Peace Officers and Fire Services have attended several calls in regards to fires in the location.”

Moghrabi says to clarify the situation, persons who are on the land are trespassing and have been provided with legal notice to vacate the property.

“The land is privately-owned, and the owner has been served a legal order to ensure that their property complies with the Community Standards Bylaw,” Moghrabi said. “Under the County’s Community Standards Bylaw, the land has become unsightly and a nuisance property.”

In the short term, Moghrabi says the Lac La Biche County FCSS staff and Peace Officers regularly work and liaise with the Lakeland Out of the Elements Shelter to ensure that they’re able to maintain operations. In the longer term, the County established a Transitional Housing Task Force with multiple agencies in the community.

Elected officials are in the process of developing a plan to meet the needs of vulnerable residents in Lac La Biche County which includes wraparound services that address addictions, mental health, and homelessness.

Submitted Image/Lisa Marie Bourque

“The County has a long-term goal of aiding the homeless community,” Moghrabi said. “This will take some time, but the Transitional Housing Task Force has already met a few times to work on a plan and collect research data.”

This research data will include:

  • Configurations of other transitional housing facilities
  • Pros and cons for potential transitional housing facility sites
  • Calculating a living wage for Lac La Biche County
  • Drafting an awareness campaign on reasons for individuals’ unstable housing situations

That Task Force is building a long-term plan that will work specifically for Lac La Biche County’s homeless community (along with residents with unstable housing situations), and they are trying to put this in place as quickly as possible, Moghrabi added.

Some feel it’s not enough

Local advocate Lisa Marie Bourque who is a representative of the New Dawn Metis Women’s Society says that even though the county is working to address the situation, that nothing has changed and nothing has been done. She believes Indigenous FNIM Elected Leaders should get involved.

Submitted Image/Lisa Marie Bourque

“They need a piece of land with a garbage disposal, Metis tents with stoves, and somewhere to wash themselves and their clothes,” Bourque said. “They need to reconnect with their roots, so they can understand their value as human beings. Consultation needs to happen with the people with elected leaders involved.”

Bourque says the first step should be a consultation with the Indigenous FNIM Elected Leaders of Lac La Biche.

“They are the ones who will know how to work with their people,” Bourque said.

Bourque updated Lakeland Connect about the current living situation for the nine homeless people, she says right now they are happy to have a camp to live in and the fear of having their only shelter torn down is their worst nightmare.

“At this point, it is their only stable structure in their lives at this point,” she said. “There has never been a real attempt at truth and reconciliation in Lac La Biche.”

Bourque says she is currently writing a letter to the Federal government to seek assistance in helping the Indigenous people of Lac La Biche. 

“The County thinks the people need to go home to their families,” Bourque said. “There are broken down systems, severed family ties, addiction, mental health issues, lack of support systems and resources in the community.”

Bourque says these people deserve love and support, just like everyone else.

“It’s a form of unity, not systemic racism and oppression,” Bourque said.

She believes that the first step to getting these people out of the cold is the consultation work and the protocol of leaders, so they can work on the betterment of the community together and give these people the support they need and a place to live.

“We need to work together,” Bourque said.

Recent Discussions

In recent weeks, Councilors say the liability associated with such an encampment on an owner’s land was a huge deciding factor in their decision to tear the camp down, and that they had a complaint about the structures from the landowner. The landowner changed his mind and the camp remained. Now the County is saying the landowner is violating the Community Standards Bylaw.

Submitted Image/Lisa Marie Bourque

The Mayor of Lac La Biche County said in a recent interview that the people at the encampment “have no place to stay.”

The task force’s mandate is to help homelessness. The Mayor says they have set aside $500,000 so they can implement a program that would bring in both the Provincial and Federal governments to help combat the issue which is occurring in Lac La Biche.

“We have a number of people on the task force that are from different agencies that do deal with these people,” Mayor Omer Moghrabi said.

Moghrabi says the short-term plan would be finding a place for homeless people to stay.

“We do have to find a place that they can stay,” Mayor Moghrabi said. “If we move them from there, they are going to be somewhere else.”

The Mayor enforced the point that once they order the people to move they will just set up somewhere else on private lands, which is the liability to the landowner and any cost for cleaning up if required.

“Short term, we’ve got to find a site,” Mayor Moghrabi said. “The problem is a lot of people’s response is not in my backyard.”

Bourque says the Council is trying to drive the homeless people out of their camps like animals. Tearing the camp down on Thursday will be pointless Bourque says, the County needs a better solution.

“There is no use forcing individuals living in the camp off the property owned by Eludin’s until another location is found,” Bourque said. “This makes the landowners look bad. Eludin’s are taxpayers and have contributed a great deal to this community. It would be unfortunate to have the Eludin family reputation as sound business people ruined and they are aware of the barriers mental illness and addictions cause.”

Bourque says the County expects individuals and groups to collaborate and cooperate to make the best use of resources available. However, if individuals and groups are expected to work collaboratively there must be respect and trust between all involved.

She says those who have power and control cannot build trust if decisions are made without full consultation of the community.

“But I mean if we keep moving them around, then they go to the next location,” Mayor Moghrabi said. “We take them off private land and then they go to the next private landowner. So it has become that game where you’re always hitting the gopher on top of the head and he pops up someplace else, so that doesn’t work.”

The camp will be removed tomorrow. Lakeland Connect will update the situation when more information is available.

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About Arthur C. Green

Arthur C. Green is from Whitbourne Newfoundland and graduated from the CNA Journalism Program. Arthur also studied Business Marketing and Political Science at Memorial University in Essex England and St. John's Newfoundland. Green has worked for such organizations as CBC, CBC Radio, NTV, Saltwire, Great West Media, CKLB Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner!