Lac La Biche County, Métis Nation of Alberta partner on temporary homeless camp

·3 min read
Homeless camps, like this one in Edmonton, create conflicts in Lac La Biche County. The county and the Métis Nation of Alberta are partnering on a temporary camp with transportation, garbage and porta-potties. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
Homeless camps, like this one in Edmonton, create conflicts in Lac La Biche County. The county and the Métis Nation of Alberta are partnering on a temporary camp with transportation, garbage and porta-potties. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

The County of Lac La Biche in northeastern Alberta is partnering with the Métis Nation of Alberta on a temporary camp for people who are homeless.

At a meeting Tuesday, councillors approved entering into a one-year lease deal with the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 1 for a homeless camp to be set up in the Bonesville subdivision, five kilometres south of the hamlet of Lac La Biche.

Under the $1 lease deal, the Métis Nation will handle day-to-day operations and maintenance. The county will provide porta-potties, a dumpster and three-times daily transportation into the hamlet at an expected total cost of about $60,000.

Councillors also voted to have administration produce a "high-level itemized accountability report" on expenses related to the lease agreement and further costs associated with dismantling previous homeless encampments.

A report to council said homeless camps in the hamlet often come into conflict with nearby families or businesses. When they do, the camps are dismantled by community peace officers.

"This cycle creates a great deal of distress for the people establishing the camp, concerned citizens and staff directed to follow through with dismantling the camps," the report said.

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Jason Ekeberg, regional vice-president of the Métis Nation, said the camp is a temporary solution while the county gets a more robust housing program up and running.

"They're human beings and we need to do as much as we can from any point of view," Ekeberg said in an interview. He said many of the homeless people in the area are Métis Nation members or related to members.

Ekeberg called the project a great start, and said he's happy to be working together with the county.

Councillors voted 7-0 in favour of the lease deal and 6-1 in favour of the detailed report on expenses. Two councillors weren't at the meeting.

The idea for a temporary homeless camp has floated around for a few years, said Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi. He said the county won't stop at a temporary solution.

"Where you succeed is when you have an actual physical structure that's within the urban centre so that they can access services," he said.

Moghrabi, who voted against the motion to produce an accountability report, said there was some pushback in the community against the county setting up a temporary homeless camp.

"At the end of the day, you have to choose what type of society you want to live in and what you want to be known in your community for," he said.

"These are residents and people from my county. And we we will keep working."

The lease, which expires in July 2022, is based on a similar arrangement used previously in Grande Prairie.

In 2019, Grande Prairie's daytime shelter was shut down without notice, said Dylan Bressey, a city councillor there. Encampments began popping up, so the city leased a plot of land for a tent city.

"We can do better than housing people in tents," Bressey said. "Housing people in tents isn't good for them but it's also not good for the community."

Both Moghrabi and Ekeberg said they will need provincial funding for a more permanent housing and resource solution, something they both think is essential.

"We will be beating the drum pretty heavily with both provincial and federal [governments]," Moghrabi said.

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