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Veterans Park homeless encampment to stay in place

Council approves expenditure to provide storage lockers for residents’ belongings
A grant from the Union of B.C. Municipalities will provide storage for belongings of unsheltered people at Veterans Peace Park. (Supplied photo)

An encampment of homeless people in Veterans Peace Park across from Smithers Town Hall will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

The camp, which comprises several tents set up along the fence line of the Smithers Public Library parking lot, cropped up in the summer after problems with a previous camp set up on Crown land green space at the end of Broadway Avenue.

Town bylaw enforcement officer Matt Davey said people had their tents slashed, were threatened and no longer felt safe in the relative isolation of the green space.

A roundtable of service agencies, including the Town, Northern Health Mental Health Outreach, Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre, Positive Living North and the RCMP decided the best temporary solution was to let them set up on Town land.

The roundtable has continued to meet, both to address ongoing needs of Smithers’ unsheltered population, but also to come up with a more long-term solution.

“It seems like we’re kind of slowly moving towards maybe more of a permanent solution, but right now, Veterans Park is the best option,” Davey said.

The location of the camp, does have its issues, though. At its Oct. 12 regular meeting Smithers council discussed concerns from the Royal Canadian Legion regarding upcoming Remembrance Day observances at the park.

Ultimately, council decided the tents would remain, but the Town would do a cleanup of the park on Nov. 10 to prepare for Remembrance Day.

Legion president Ronald Stephens was satisfied with the decision.

“With COVID there will not be as many people (for the Remembrance Day ceremony) as pre-COVID, so I don’t think it is going to be a big problem,” he said.

“I do feel compassion for these folks and certainly we are coming to that time of year where it is going to be tough on them.”

Council also approved spending roughly $10,000 out of a Union of B.C. Municipalities grant on eight storage lockers that will be set up at the camp for the residents to store their belongings.

Davey explained one of the learnings from the Tatlow Road camp the town set up at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, is that security of self and belongings was a perennial issue for unsheltered people.

The lockers are steel boxes that are designed to be bear-proof. The boxes will be installed by the Town and administered by the Dze L K’ant. Camp residents will be issued a padlock when they apply to use one of the boxes.

The money is part of $206,000 grant for the Smithers Homeless Outreach and Capacity Building Project, a partnership between the Town, the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society and Bulkley Valley Social Planning Society (BVSPS, formerly the Smithers Action Group).

The project is a year-long pilot project to address issues unsheltered, homeless and vulnerable people face on a daily basis.

The Lion’s share of the funding will be used by Dze L K’ant to hire two additional outreach workers.

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