Residents in North Point Douglas clean up garbage by Red River after six-month wait for city

Community members of Winnipeg’s North Point Douglas are taking matters into their own hands after being fed up with waiting for the city to clear a stretch of garbage left behind by a homeless camp. 

Around 30 volunteers, including members of Mama Bear Clan and Point Douglas Residents Committee, gathered at the corner of Annabella Street and Rover Avenue on Sunday morning to clean up the debris left along the Red River. 

Ben Thiessen, housing chair of the residents committee, says the group has been calling the city since October last year, but was told it was too dangerous for city employees to come down and clean it. 

“It’s not too dangerous for us as a community to clean it up, but it’s too dangerous for the city,” Thiessen said.

Ben Thiessen is the housing chair of the Point Douglas Residents Committee. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

He says the community is frustrated after waiting months for the city to act, so they decided to organize a cleanup themselves. Thiessen brought his own truck with a small trailer to haul away the garbage. 

“It’s frustrating because as a community, we really do care about our area. This is where we walk our dogs every day. This is where we’re walking to the park,” he said. 

“We’ve reached out to our city councillor. We’ve reached out to other politicians in the area. They don’t really seem to care,” said Thiessen. 

In an email to CBC, the city confirms it hasn’t been able to remove the materials due to safety concerns.

Some of the garbage has started to leak into the Red River. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

A spokesperson says it can be difficult for staff to access riverside sites through the winter and spring due to unstable banks and an inability to take machinery and equipment down the slope, but the city is aware and will attend it as soon as conditions allow. 

Volunteers showed up with snacks, tongs, gloves, bins and garbage bags. A stretch of debris spanning around 10 to 20 metres can be seen along the river bank — littered with anything from tents, shelves, kitchen utensils to a couch. Most of it is still frozen to the ground. 

Siobhan Faulkner works in the area and says she felt compelled to volunteer after seeing debris leak into the Red River. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Siobhan Faulkner, who works in the neighbourhood, came out and volunteered with her daughter. Faulkner says she felt compelled to help when she knew the garbage was going to end up in the river. 

“I’m glad to be able to keep the community safe for our young ones, for the little ones that’ll be coming out, for families that’ll be out here,” she said. 

A volunteer loads garbage onto Ben Thiessen’s trailer. Some community members also brought along their pick-up trucks to help haul the garbage away. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Members of Mama Bear Clan come out to help. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Thiessen says there are other sites of debris along the Red River in the neighbourhood and the city must provide a way for people who are homeless to dispose of their garbage. 

“This is the worst we’ve ever seen. Without a doubt, this is the worst,” he said. 

“There are different community programs that are bringing them food, but they don’t take the garbage away. So this just continually compounds and this is what we’re left with here,” said Thiessen.

He says it’s typically the community that cleans it up because politicians don’t seem to make it a priority. There will be another cleanup on April 30, he said.

Some of the volunteers who showed up to the cleanup. The event was organized by Mama Bear Clan and the Point Douglas Residents Committee. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“To people driving over the Disraeli [Bridge] and seeing this, they just think that, you know, Point Douglas is a dump,” said Thiessen. 

“We don’t see our neighborhood like that. We love our neighborhood. We choose to live in our neighborhood. We love our neighbours. It’s a great community.”