Following the Nov. 15 removal of a number of tents four individuals had been using as a home for eight months, deputy mayor Gladys Atrill took to Facebook to address the events.
“The removal of the tents at the corner of King and Main St has resulted in a strong and understandable reaction from many,” said Atrill in a Nov. 26 Facebook post.
“It is hard to think about those who go into winter without good housing, or no housing.”
She said the Town and social service agencies have been working — on several fronts — to increase housing options for those in Smithers who are most in need.
But in her post Atrill also noted this issue is one that has occurred in the past and when these camps are situated near residential neighbourhoods it can be a recipe for divisiveness.
“When a homeless camp sets up adjacent to a neighbourhood tension builds,” said Atrill.
“So in some ways this is not a new story in Smithers, though for the individuals affected the story is new and very personal.
“For several months residents who live near this site asked the Town and Council for help. They described a situation that left them unable to enjoy their property, fearful for their safety, and the safety of their children and grandchildren.”
Atrill said Smithers Town Council directed staff to work with the people living in both camps (while a number of tents were cleared on Nov. 15, an additional camp in close proximity to this was removed in early October) to help them find housing.
She added in the case of the tents removed on Nov. 15, town staff had been informed they were abandoned and had been asked to clean up the site.
“It was sadly discovered after the clean up began that the tent owners had not abandoned them,” said Atrill, adding staff offered to assist the individuals in finding housing.
“That offer remains in place,” she said.
According to Atrill, personal belongings gathered by staff during removal are in storage, and will be returned.
She ended the post by acknowledging the situation as one that has been difficult for a number of different parties.
“Our staff met with Friendship Centre staff yesterday to discuss how our organizations can work together on creating new networking opportunities, with the homeless and organizations assisting the homeless, in order to strengthen the lines of communication … to prevent situations like this from occurring in the future.
“This is a difficult story in all ways. People are homeless. It is getting cold. All residents want safe neighbourhoods. If you can help someone, please do. If you have ideas on how to make things better, please let us know.”
Kirsten Patrick, her boyfriend Floyd Hyzins, her mom Marina and her mom’s boyfriend Daniel previously told The Interior News they had been staying at the site for eight months.
Patrick said they had not abandoned the site.
“It breaks my heart,” she said. “My mom was expecting to come home to our home that we have been in for eight months. They took it away without giving us any warning or anything … especially with my sister’s stuff in there.”
Patrick’s sister Jessica died at the age of 18 in 2018. The investigation into her death is ongoing.
“It literally went to the dump,” added Patrick. “My baby sister’s big picture that we had from her funeral last year and her wallet. That was the last thing we had from her. It really hurts, it was the only thing we had.”
Bylaw officer Matt Davey previously told The Interior News he attempted to put aside any re-usable items or things that may be of further use into his truck. However he also said clean-up crews did not conduct a thorough search of the tents due to possible risks of contaminants being present.