The Town of Smithers has announced the temporary suspension of its weekly encampment takedowns and cleanups at Veterans Peace Park. According to the town, this decision has been made in order to ensure the safety of all workers involved in these takedowns and cleanups.
“Sometimes the condition of the camp, and the behavior of those within the encampment makes things maybe not the best situation for staff,” said Mayor Gladys Atrill. “And we do have a responsibility as any employer to ensure that staff have a safe work environment at all times.”
The new parks bylaw, which was adopted in June, prohibits camping, including temporary overnight sheltering, in all town parks except the eastern part of Veterans Peace Park.
In that area, temporary overnight sheltering is allowed providing set up is no earlier than 6 p.m. and take down is no later than 9 a.m. from April to the end of September. In the winter the hours are 3 p.m. and 9 a.m.
At its Sept. 12 regular meeting, council brought forward a motion from a closed meeting on Aug. 22 authorizing town staff to take down the homeless encampment at Veterans Peace Park “up to one time per week, until staff feel it is no longer practical.”
The decision to suspend the weekly encampment takedowns and cleanups is temporary while the town is working to evaluate alternative actions.
A press release from the town said staff is working collaboratively with WorkSafe BC to develop a Workplace Violence Prevention Program.
“This program aims to establish procedures, policies, and work environment arrangements to minimize, if not eliminate, the risks to workers,” the release stated. “During all previously held takedowns and clean-ups, the Town has taken proactive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff, including having open lines of communication with staff involved.”
During this period, the town will maintain an open line of communication with relevant stakeholders, including residents, community organizations, and local businesses, to ensure transparency and address any concerns related to the temporary suspension of the weekly takedowns and cleanups, it said.
“It’s not only good for the people in the neighborhood, it’s good for the people who live there,” added Atrill. “Being able to get debris out of the camp, and any garbage out is beneficial to everyone. It’s definitely our hope to be able to do [the cleanups.]”