COVID-19: Homeless advocate Cam Noyes takes to the streets to help where he can


Cam Noyes helps homeless people in Old Strathcona

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When Cameron Noyes leaves his house these days, he brings a few bags of supplies with him.

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“Oh, let’s see,” he said, softly in a whisper. “I have Ensure bottles, Ziplocs sterilized with socks, toilet paper, homemade sanitary wipes with rubbing alcohol, naloxone kits.”

While some people have prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic by stocking up on flour, toilet paper, pasta and other items, Noyes thinks of the homeless in his neighborhood of Old Strathcona. He is not part of any official organization, but the activist, musician, promoter and sometimes artist director is very sensitive to those who have fallen through the cracks, especially as the streets emerge, people stay indoors, businesses close their doors.

“(March 18) I met this woman on Whyte Ave. who has been on the street for years,” he says. “She asked where everyone was and why all the stores were closed. No one had told him.

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Others also expressed their dismay to Noyes at how they were left behind.

“I ran into a young couple outside lifting lids from trash cans,” he sighs. “The women asked me, ‘Why didn’t they tell us?’ They did not find out until a few days later why the stores had been closed. I gave them rubber gloves so they didn’t have to touch the metal.

Edmonton may be becoming a ghost town, but there are still a number of people haunting the streets. Noyes followed them, distributing basic necessities and giving advice. The problem is finding them, as the usual center around which many street dwellers congregate has closed without notice.

“We need to reopen the public washrooms at Whyte (northeast corner of Whyte Ave. and Gateway Blvd.),” Noyes said with some urgency. “There are other things, of course, but we need a place for people on the streets to clean up. The first rule of this pandemic is to wash your hands and not to touch your face. How can people do this if nothing is open? “

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Noyes, who is known in the neighborhood as much for his friendly dog ​​Boudica as for his advocacy, insists that this be fixed. A few businesses in the region have stepped up to help with their own toilets, which he is grateful for, but it is not enough. The public washrooms, which have been occupied by Boyle Street Ventures since late 2019, are an automatic meeting point. On his last forays he saw a number of people testing the doors; Noyes used to carry a spray bottle filled with disinfectant to use on the handles.

He might be doing this for a while, as there doesn’t appear to be any plans to reopen the space just yet.

“It was a city decision,” said Elliott Tanti, media and communications manager for Boyle Street, in a neutral tone. “I imagine they are trying to limit contact. We had staff who were ready and willing to do this, but unfortunately we don’t have a say in it. “

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Noyes therefore continues on his way. He has experience; in the 90s he was part of a group of people helping refugees in then Yugoslavia, bringing food, cigarettes, whatever was needed. He helped with asylum claims and brought war victims across borders.

Seeing him perform in the city he lives in, however, is somewhat surreal. As people stay indoors, the economy on the streets is collapsing. Few cans or bottles to bring to the bottle depot, no coins to beg for, even if someone was willing to stand the recommended distance.

“It’s mostly the confusion over there,” Noyes said. “One guy was really paranoid, off his meds, and said, ‘They won’t listen to me.’ I assured him that they weren’t listening to me either. Someone had told him not to be in large crowds, so he refuses to go to the shelter. At the end of our conversation, I’m not sure he knew much more than he did at the beginning.

Noyes is ready to go on and is looking for general help ([email protected]) with anything anyone can offer. It sails on the fly, identifying future problems. “A lot of people with financial difficulties have pets, so this will soon be a problem. “

Mostly, he’s just trying to do his best.

“I don’t want to catch the coronavirus,” he says. “I don’t want to be sick. I just need to do this. I can’t even tell you why. Maybe it’s just a basic community spirit, but if the system isn’t going to help, we have to uplift ourselves. “

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