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  • John G

Encampments - A Human and Environmental Disaster

Residents living in the Exchange District have no front yard, or back yard, in which to enjoy some outdoor time -- we instead rely on our city parks.

What parks do we have available to us? Well, in the west Exchange, there is Old Market Square, which is great, but often used for concerts and events. On Waterfront Drive south, there is Stephen Juba Park, which is beautiful, and well used. And on Waterfront Drive north, we have Fort Douglas Park.

"Fort Douglas was the Selkirk Settlement (Red River Colony) fort and the first fort associated with the Hudson's Bay Company near the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in today's city of Winnipeg. Today the site of Fort Douglas is located on Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg, in Fort Douglas Park." (Wikipedia)

"the site of the fort is the most important historical site in the [Exchange] district" - Wikipedia

You can see from the map below, that of the 3 parks available to residents, Fort Douglas park is by far the largest, wrapping around a major curve in the historic Red River.

Clearly Fort Douglas Park should be a proud place to stroll, explore and play. How is it looking this spring? Let's take a look:

What has happened here is an environmental disaster in one of Winnipeg's most historic parks. Unfortunately the politicians and bureaucrats at the City of Winnipeg have been fully aware of this for the past 4 years, but has done little to restore and preserve this critical natural environment. An active group of Residents of the Exchange District (R:ED) have been emailing dozens of politicians (city and provincial) and bureaucrats for years, sending hundreds of emails showing the destruction of the park, the horrid conditions of those living there, and last summer, the almost weekly out-of-control fires. There has been no improvement at all.

If the situation isn't shocking enough, here is an aerial view of the shanty shelters, burnt trees stripped of branches and the garbage -- all just a few metres from walking paths, Waterfront Drive, and people's homes:

Yes, this is an environmental disaster in land set aside for its natural beauty and historic value, but it is much more. The unsheltered people who set up encampments on this riverbank are living in Third World conditions with no shelter, water, toilet, food or security -- living without dignity.

Residents have banded together or solo, to remove litter, and when encampments are empty, they have removed truckloads of junk. But in spite of these noble community efforts, frustrations grow as the situation just gets worse year after year -- both for the park, and for the unsheltered individuals who are just trying to survive.

Because these encampments are a bit out of sight, away from traffic and the homes of politicians, no one in power does anything to help them. City Council voted earlier this month to provide "mindful garbage removal" throughout the summer, asking the unsheltered dwellers what can be thrown out. We don't expect that to have any significant effect; check out the picture below of the massive amount of garbage, shopping carts, broken tree limbs and construction materials strewn about beside a half empty garbage basket.

Click on any picture to see a larger view.

The same devastation is taking place along the Assiniboine River between the Osborne bridge and Westgate, in Point Douglas and in other areas.

Other cities only allow encampments in designated areas and in these areas they can provide some basic services like washrooms, showers, lighting, security and services for mental health and addiction. What alternatives has Winnipeg provided to those living in random spots along the river banks of our city? So far, nothing.


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