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Fort McMurray: Homeless, Working Poor, and Welfare Recipients

posted by dru Geography: West Fort McMurray Topics: oil

June 11, 2007

Fort McMurray: Homeless, Working Poor, and Welfare Recipients


We had a brief conversation with Flex Turner, a twenty-five year resident of Fort McMurray, Syncrude employee, and soup kitchen volunteer.

Turner said that since the kitchen where he volunteers started 13 years ago, he has "seen the numbers explode" every year. In addition to the city's homeless population, which he estimates at around 500, the church-based kitchen serves the working poor--mainly those "at McDonald's," cleaning jobs and the hotel industry--and welfare recipients. Once people pay their rent, he said, "there's not a lot left over for food."

Turner explained that city was not building low-income housing, and the province is not providing funding to do so, exacerbating the existing housing crisis in Fort McMurray.

The oil companies, he said, are not responsible for building roads or housing, so "they need to pay more" so the government can provide those things (oil companies currently pay 1% in royalties on oil revenues, and subsidies are provided for tar sands exploration). He added that companies like Syncrude sponsor colleges, recreational facilities and United Way.

When asked about the environmental impact, Turner seemed to be share the prevailing attitude that recent developments are good for jobs, and didn't have a fundamental problem with the overall developments. He did have some sharper comments, however.

"I'm not a scientist," he said, but noted that "it's a huge amount of lands" that are going to be mined for oil sands, and a "huge amount of waste" that will be generated.

Turner referred to projects like Syncrude's raising of Bison as "a big show piece... good PR work for them."

"It's never going to be what it was," said Turner. "Tailing ponds will be there for another hundred years... the wildlife are coming closer to [Fort McMurray]; we're taking up their space."

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