As Lloydminster has managed to escape brutal cold temperatures going into December, some people in our city are hoping for a chance to simply sleep indoors.
For several years now, a small group of houseless people have resorted to living in tents or camping in the bushes around the border city. Many say they are able to work but were no longer able to afford the costs of living or have fallen to other hardships along the way.
A man whose full name we are keeping confidential, but known as “Big John,” moved to Lloydminster from Grande Prairie 8 years ago. He lost his job four years ago and now lives among the group who were recently evicted from an area of bushes which they believed to be an extension of grounds from the Lloydminster Golf and Curling Club. The area of brush is between the golf course and the main CP rail line which goes through Lloydminster. After setting up camp, the group say they were confronted by CP Police and Peace Officers.
“Big John” was among a few others dismantling their campsites into wagons, carriers and shopping carts assembled off the property when he explained what happened.
“Yesterday CP police and Peace Officers came in and issued us each a $580 ticket for trespassing and told us we had to immediately pack up and leave”. John says the group received no warning or notice before the peace officers arrived and the fines were immediately issued.
In a statement to 106-1 The Goat, CPKC said, “CPKC Police Service continues to work with local police services to protect public safety and address an encampment encroaching on railroad property and near an active railroad line”.
While the property the campers were on falls under CP’s jurisdiction, there are no clear markers indicating the zone is a restricted area or whether if it is private property. To add to the confusion, the group says they are getting mixed messages as to where they can and can’t be. Upon follow up, CPKC did not respond as to whether a warning was issued to the campers before fines were issued. The campers say no warning was given.
According to “Big John”, there are ongoing discussions as to where he and his fellow homeless can be right now. “Residents in Recovery were talking to the city and seeing where we can go and what we can do, and to our understanding we were allowed to be here, but we didn’t know we were on CP Property.”
Tyler Lorenz is the founder and executive director of Residents in Recovery, and he has personally been leading the charge in trying to find a solution. After the group was fined and evicted, he said they had to do something to get eyes on the issue. “If the city just wants to keep displacing them, then it may as well be close to downtown – might as well be on city hall property.
That lead to a temporary campsite being set up on the front lawn of Lloydminster city hall.
While the city hall campsite was temporary and dismantled the next day, the city says they are aware something needs to be done and are trying to assist with limited resources.
“The City does not actively dismantle encampments unless there is an accompanying public safety concern, and even then, before encampment removal, we work with the individuals and non-profits to encourage those affected to relocate,” says the city of Lloydminster. As for the confusion from Big John and others believing they could set up camp on civic property, the city added, “The Community Standards Bylaw prohibits the placement of any such thing on City lands, without prior written consent from the City.” It is not known if such written consent has been or will be granted to the individuals.
Lorenz admits that despite the best efforts of programs in the city, they are also limited in what they can do. “Some of them would be in my program if I had empty beds… and I know that.” We have 23 Sober living beds. 12 are funded by the Saskatchewan Government.”
He adds that Lloydminster is simply not equipped to do much for those who are homeless and trapped in cycles of addiction and is especially lacking in resources for women living on our streets. “The Interval Home (the Lloydminster Women’s Shelter) is strictly for abused women. A lot of them (the men) are banned or not allowed in the Men’s shelter. There’s no shelter for anyone that is actively using. There’s literally nowhere for any of them to go. They’re not choosing to be homeless. They’re not choosing to live in tents in the winter.”
The City of Lloydminster says they have a strategy. “In the event that local supports reach capacity, the City does have an established Cold Weather Strategy to ensure that everyone who wants it, receives the necessary support and care.”
Lorenz says there is yet to be an active plan laid out though, and it’s not entirely the City’s fault. “This isn’t a municipal issue. This is a federal and provincial issue. I get that the city has no funds to resolve this, and therein lies a lot of our frustration.”
The stance that governments on all levels need to get involved isn’t a new one, but in a city with two provincial authorities, Lorenz says neither one is stepping up enough to do anything. “The government goes on about their “Alberta model” which is clearly not working. More overdose deaths, very limited capacity has been given to the system. The Alberta model is an epic fail. Saskatchewan never had a model. Nothing is being done to build any capacity into the system for these individuals.”
As for those $580 fines, it’s not clear what could happen to the individuals should they be convicted. In 2022, Saskatchewan passed a ruling that has a maximum fine of up to $25,000 and up to six months jail time for repeat trespassing offenders.
For now, there is still no answer. Lorenz says that the houseless community are functioning on basic human needs. “They need to have an encampment until we can figure something out.”
Big John remains hopeful that something will get done. “We’re all just trying to survive together… we’re like a family.”