Residents in Saskatoon’s River Heights neighbourhood are raising safety concerns after repeated incidents they say involve wildfire evacuees.
Heather Kehoe’s home backs onto a field leading to the Henk Ruys Soccer Centre, where more than 700 evacuees from the Pelican Narrows area were being housed as wildfires rage near their homes.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 161 people from Pelican Narrows are at the centre, while 499 other evacuees are staying in hotels.
Kehoe said the community is having issues with evacuees walking through gardens, yelling and fighting in the field and leaving garbage everywhere.
“Somebody who was highly intoxicated (was) on our front lawn at 10:30 p.m. (when), yelling and screaming then knocking on our door,” she said. “It was kind of the last straw for me.”
Neighbours echoed Kehoe’s concerns in a Facebook thread over the weekend, when she asked “who is supervising” the evacuees.
“I don’t live far from Lawson and I’m dealing with it every night,” read one comment.
Kehoe said she’s been harassed when she steps into her backyard, and added she doesn’t feel safe letting her children walk through the field.
“Two years ago (when evacuees were at the centre), they would walk across the park to school and were harassed, yelled at with lewd comments,” she said.
Kehoe added the harassment became an issue for her children’s elementary school, which she claimed ended up keeping recess inside.
Both the public and catholic school boards told 650 CKOM they don’t currently have any safety concerns for children at recess, and there was no information on alterations to the schedule in past years.
Kehoe said police have been called to the neighbourhood almost daily, and are doing what they can to deal with resident complaints.
A Saskatoon police spokesperson said there has been an increase in calls to the neighbourhood, but they were “minor in nature” and no criminal charges have been filed.
Emergency Social Services Provincial Coordinator Deanna Valentine said there were security guards and dedicated police officers stationed at the soccer centre. However, she noted they were tasked with security of the facility, not the neighbourhood.
Kehoe emphasized the problems are being caused by a small group of the evacuees at the centre.
“There’s great people and families there, and I feel for them,” she said. “But you’ve got a certain amount who are causing grief for everyone around.”
She believes a solution lies in getting the evacuees to volunteer their time while they are in Saskatoon, in order to keep them occupied.
“I think that would be a fabulous idea,” she said. “A lot of them are bored or have nothing to do.”
—With files from 650 CKOM’s Bryn Levy and Celine Grimard