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Sunalta residents clean up after outdoor encampment fire

Residents in Sunalta are cleaning up after a fire at an encampment last week that damaged an outdoor garden area and nearby mural.

On Nov. 10 an encampment at the Sunalta Wildflower Garden caught fire and damaged a nearby mural, the garage it was painted on, a nearby bench and a storage bin.

“A considerable mess was left behind for our community to deal with,” read a note to the community from the Sunalta Community Association.  

“This terrible accident has shaken many in our community, as we mourn for our garden and continue to cope with the complex social issues impacting Sunalta.”

Nearby residents responded to help clean up shortly after. But the letter stated that a number of biomaterials were found in the area, and it wasn’t safe for volunteers.

The city was called in to help.

According to the city, the Calgary Police and the bylaw encampment team were called in following the Nov. 10 fire. Contractors were enlisted to clean up the area. “An unfortunate administrative error” led to the cleanup crew not showing up at the right time. They went to the wrong location and thought the work had been complete.

“We are following up with our contractor to address this issue,” read a response from the city.

Residents in the area volunteered last Sunday to clean up the remains of the encampment and fire.

Area resident Lori Klassen said this was a community gathering spot.

“It’s disappointing. This is created as a space for community members to enjoy. And I guess it feels disrespectful and disappointing that somebody would let that happen,” she said.

The good news is the work that’s already underway to repair and restore the area, Klassen said.

Outpouring of support

The charred remains of a fire that damaged part of a mural at the Sunalta WildFlower Garden, photographed on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The community is focused on its ambitious Imagine Sunalta Community Hub. It’s a location that will deliver support and programming to area residents.

They recently received a $2 million grant from the City of Calgary to continue their work.

A statement from the Sunalta Community Association said there’s been an outpouring of support from area residents and city services.

“There are people in, or passing through our community, that are struggling and we are in contact with various City of Calgary resources and non-profit agencies who are working with this vulnerable population to give them the support they need,” the statement read.

“We are extremely grateful to all those who have offered to lend a hand this past week, and into the future, as we continue to navigate the complex social issues facing our community and our city.”

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said it was a sad combination of events. His office has been working with the community.

“My hope is a simple one,” Walcott said.

“And it’s just about really making sure that anytime events like this happen, we don’t move into a reactive mode but move into a very much proactive mode and start activating people on a discussion around what is kind of the current landscape of being unhoused.”

He acknowledged that sometimes different resources are working in silos on these issues.

Walcott would like to see an integrated approach to tackling these challenges in communities. He referenced the Stephen Avenue Hub as an example.

It’s not efficient to play a “game of phone tag,” Walcott said. It would be better to show up at the office and say, “Hey, we have this issue, and every resource is on hand to support it in one physical place embedded in our communities.”