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'I don't belong here': Homeless Albertans describe life in Wetaskiwin encampment

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WETASKIWIN, Alta. — Alvin Johnson holds on to a tarp flying in the wind as his partner tries to secure the corners of their tent with shards of wood.

His weathered hands wipe tears from his eyes as he talks about living in a homeless encampment on the edge of Wetaskiwin, southeast of Edmonton.

“I wish they would help us,” said Johnson. “I don’t belong here.”

The City of Wetaskiwin moved the camp to a city-owned plot of land after shutting down the community’s homeless shelter in August.

Johnson, 61, used to live in nearby Maskwacis, which serves reserves from four Cree First Nations. The City of Wetaskiwin and band leaders have failed to help him, he said.

“It’s like the reserve — you have to take care of yourself,” said Johnson about living at the camp. “When we step out of the boundary, we’re on our own.”

Fights break out in the “tent city,” he said, but people try and look out for one another. His biggest worry is his chosen family getting hurt.

In between long pauses, he talked about traumas he’s faced, including the death of a brother and being beaten with a hammer. He doesn’t say whether the attack happened at the camp.

He joins upwards of 60 other people in the open field fighting to stay warm as winter nears.

The frigid air creeps into tattered tents at night and people wake up to frost in the morning. Ashes sit at the bottom of fire pits. On a chilly day in October, there’s no more wood to start a fire.

“I can just see people declining, deteriorating and mental health is getting worse and worse,” said Kristen Anderson, who lives in one of the tents.

Anderson, 41, said he started living rough in 2019 after his parents died, his welding company went under and he weathered a divorce. He turned to alcohol to cope, which he said only made things worse.

A log holds up his tent. There are soap bars at the entrance to deter mice from burrowing inside. Anderson said he has items to protect himself hidden among his belongings but didn’t say what they were.

“Within the last week, it’s been getting a lot worse. I find it’s the predator and the prey. There are people out here preying on the weak,” he said. “I hear women cry themselves to sleep at night.”

During the day, most people leave the camp to roam the city, panhandle or seek social supports. Some medical staff and community members visit the site to provide aid.

It’s relatively calm until the sun goes down and alcohol and drugs “add fuel to the fire,” said Anderson.

Another woman at the camp, who declined to give her name, said some community members drive by and hurl insults and racial slurs at the people living there.

“I would choose not to be here,” she said. “But I have no choice.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2021.

Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Regulator lays charges against Tidewater Midstream for acidic water release

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CALGARY — The Alberta Energy Regulator has laid charges against Tidewater Midstream and Infrastructure Ltd. for a release of acidic water in west-central Alberta.

The regulator says the release occurred in Oct. 2019 at Tidewater’s Ram River sour gas processing plant near Rocky Mountain House. 

It says the acidic water flowed into a nearby creek.

Calgary-based Tidewater has been charged with 10 violations under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, including releasing a substance to the environment that caused or may have caused an adverse effect. 

The regulator also alleges that Tidewater failed to report the release of the acidic water as soon as possible, and failed to take all reasonable measures to repair and remedy the spill.

Tidewater is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 8 in Rocky Mountain House.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 21, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TWM)

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Alberta

Alberta's top doctor says COVID-19 cases receding but vigilance needed at Halloween

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says COVID-19 case numbers in the province continue to recede.

But Dr. Deena Hinshaw cautions that the hospital situation remains precarious given the high number of patients.

And she says Albertans can’t afford to let up on health restrictions, particularly with Halloween coming up.

There were 770 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday for a new total of 10,434 active cases.

There were eight more deaths, bringing that total to 3,014.

Alberta Health Services says there are 912 people in hospital with COVID-19, and that 201 of them are in intensive care.

Alberta remains under gathering restrictions for indoor and outdoor events, and Hinshaw says it’s important to stick to those limits at Halloween.

Hinshaw urged those setting out candy for trick or treaters to not use bowls, but to set out the candy spaced apart on a surface like a blanket.

She says those who want to have a Halloween party should consider a small gathering of vaccinated people.

“This is not the year for large Halloween parties,” Hinshaw said.

“If you’re planning a Halloween gathering try to have it outdoors and make sure the limit of no more than 20 people is observed.”

Hinshaw noted that last Oct. 31 there were 5,600 active COVID-19 cases, about half the current total. There were 141 people in hospital with the illness a year ago.

Alberta continues to battle a fourth wave of the pandemic.

It has more than doubled the normal number of 173 critical care beds and has had to cancel thousands of non-urgent surgeries to handle the surge.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley says with winter coming and COVID-19 still circulating, the province needs to provide stable funding to social agencies for winter emergency shelters.

“All people deserve to live in dignity and have a safe place to call home,” said Notley. “These calls are urgent. It’s getting cold outside, and our northern winter will be here soon.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.

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