An industrial garbage bin and a tractor have been brought in at two encampments near the Disraeli Bridge, where residents have been ordered by the City of Winnipeg to leave by Friday.
“I think it’s bullshit,” said Desirae Whitehead, who’s been living in the smaller camp on Austin Street since last August.
“I’m not a homeless person. This is my home. This is my family.”
A city crew started to clean up garbage at the two camps Wednesday morning using the tractor and the industrial garbage truck.
Whitehead was speaking in front of the remnants of her camp, which saw two fires on Wednesday morning alone.
The fires underscored safety concerns that have been raised by agencies who work with people experiencing homelessness.
“We’re not here to oppose encampments,” said Rick Lees, executive director of Main Street Project. But he said Winnipeg’s fire department feels “this is unsafe and people could die.”
Lees, along with a representative from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, issued residents in the two camps a formal order Wednesday to vacate the camp by Friday at noon.
Some residents of the camps have told CBC News they intend to stay.
“I’m optimistic that that’s not going to happen,” said Lees. “We’re basically saying to people that this is not about the moral debate of encampments. This is about life safety.
“If people choose to … continue to camp in other areas we just want them to do it safely.”
Robert Russell, one of the camp’s residents, has become an advocate for his homeless peers in recent days.
“I don’t want to leave and several of us don’t want to leave, so we’ll see if they’re true to their word that there’s not going to be a forcible eviction.”
Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said police will not lead the eviction.
Russell, who chooses to live in the camp instead of a nearby hotel room, said the camps highlight the bigger problem of the lack of affordable housing and problems with Manitoba’s welfare system.
Housing approved by employment income assistance is “atrocious,” he said.
“They should be condemned buildings, and that’s what they’re saying is OK for people to live in. I don’t think that they would live in it, and I don’t think they should ask … anyone to live in it.”
A rally in support of camp residents being put on by Aboriginal Youth Opportunities is planned for Wednesday afternoon.
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