Smithers council has decided to not consider the area on Third Avenue near Chandler Park as a possible location for temporary overnight sheltering.
This comes as council continues to struggle with updating the town’s parks bylaw.
It was on the agenda at the last regular council meeting on May 23 for the third time for third reading, but was again postponed because the meeting was running too late following extensive comments from the public and a prolonged debate among council members.
Council has not yet been able to come to any agreement on one section of the bylaw that deals with temporary overnight sheltering.
At 10:30 p.m., councillors decided to deal with timely matters and then adjourn the meeting and move everything else until the next regular meeting.
However, they did decide on a biweekly clean-up of the current encampment at Veterans Peace Park as well as installing additional lockers for those who need them.
At a committee of the whole meeting on May 15, there was a motion crafted to amend the proposed parks bylaw to designate the land between the RCMP detachment and Chandler Park as the space allotted for temporary overnight sheltering.
However, many people showed up to the meeting on May 23 to oppose that location, citing safety of the children for the future francophone school that will be built there and concerns from the users of the soccer fields as well as the proximity of a seniors housing facility.
Councillor Frank Wray apologized for bringing up the idea of that location without proper consultation with the neighbourhood.
“I’m really concerned about the crime that happened last summer, at this current encampment, and I’m concerned that it’s going to happen again,” he said. “And I thought that the RCMP [nearby] would be a deterrent to that crime.”
Councillor Sam Raven assured those listening in the gallery that the town is not taking the issue of homelessness lightly.
“We’re not looking at moving an encampment, washing our hands and going oh, problem solved and walking away,” she said. “We are looking at the larger issues of mental health support treatment, detox.
“We’re looking for an open parks and spaces bylaw to give us solutions for the short term, but we are constantly and I do mean constantly, every week, advocating and looking for solutions, talking to our networks, finding out what’s going on with other municipalities, I know our staff are bending over backwards anytime they hear of any ideas.”
The Town is obligated to provide a safe space or spaces where unhoused people can shelter overnight.
Currently, there is a semi-permanent encampment in Veterans Peace Park across from Smithers Town Hall.