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Homeless in Lloydminster evicted and fined $580 for encampment

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As Saskatchewan managed to escape brutal cold temperatures going into December, some in Lloydminster are hoping for a chance to simply sleep indoors.

For several years now, a small group of homeless 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, who we’ll call Big John to maintain his anonymity, moved to Lloydminster from Grande Prairie eight years ago. He lost his job four years ago and now lives among a group who were recently evicted from an area of bushes that they believed were an extension of grounds from the Lloydminster Golf and Curling Club.

The camp site was between the golf course and the main Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) rail line that runs through Lloydminster.

The group says CPKC police confronted them after setting up camp.

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.

(Courtesy: Mike McGuire)

In a statement, CPKC described the camp as a “public safety” issue.

“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 CPKC’s jurisdiction, there are no clear markers indicating the zone is a restricted area or private property.

To add to the confusion, the group says they’re getting mixed messages as to where they can and can’t be.

Upon follow up, CPKC did not say whether a warning was issued to the campers before fines were issued. The campers say they got none.

According to Big John, there are ongoing discussions as to where he and his fellow homeless can be right now, including among members of a local sober living organization Residents in Recovery.

“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.

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 led to a temporary campsite being set up on the front lawn of Lloydminster city hall.

While the city hall campsite was 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,” the city of Lloydminster said in a statement.

“The Community Standards Bylaw prohibits the placement of any [encampments] on city lands without prior written consent from the city.”

It’s not known if written consent 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. Twelve are funded by the Saskatchewan government.”

He says 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 (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,” said Lorenz.

“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 isn’t yet an active plan laid out, 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 solution for Big John and his friends.

Lorenz says that homeless people in the 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.” 

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