Sheds used to shelter Wetaskiwin homeless destroyed by fire

Two sheds used to protect Wetaskiwin’s homeless population from extreme weather were destroyed in a fire Monday afternoon.

Police were dispatched to a fire at about 4:20 p.m. in the small city approximately 70 kilometres south of Edmonton.

The wooden structures, which are often used to house cattle or horses, were the only shelter available for people in Wetaskiwin who have nowhere else to go. The sheds have been a controversial topic on social media.

Jessi Hanks, who runs a “Wetaskiwin Rant and Rave” page on Facebook, said several people have made a joke of the fire. 

“Overall, the tone seems to be not very supportive,” she said regarding comments in the Facebook group. “But you do see the comments in there of genuine concern, where people are concerned for the safety of those who were using the shelter.”

The fire started after a burn bin was brought inside one of the sheds, RCMP say. (Supplied)

Cnst. Patrick Lambert with the RCMP K-Division said the fire started when a burn barrel was brought inside one of the sheds for warmth.

The unheated shelters were a temporary measure implemented by the city in August, while community leaders determine long-term solutions for people struggling with homelessness. The structures are now completely useless.

“Before this they had nothing over their heads. And nobody really paid attention to them. Nobody really cared about their situations or if they were cold or wet,” Hanks said.

“What’s going to happen to them when it rains, when it snows? They have no more escape from the elements, so it’s pretty sad to see them go.”

Wetaskiwin’s homeless population is small, but still needs support, she said.

“I would like to see the city set up some kind of emergency temporary shelter,” she said. “And a proper one where they have heat and water and toilets — just a place to go.”

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