Homelessness discussion continues

Smithers town council is meeting with BC Housing today to see if a temporary solution can be found to address the issue before winter.

Smithers town council is meeting with BC Housing today to see if a temporary solution can be found to address the homelessness issue before winter weather sets in.

The Town of Smithers will bring together BC Housing with service providers in the community who can carry the initiative forward, said Mayor Taylor Bachrach, as the town is not in the business of providing housing.

“Really, it comes down to having a champion, or an organization in the community, to spearhead it and put the remaining pieces together,” Bachrach said.

At a meeting between Smithers councillors and BC Housing during the UBCM conference in September, the provincial government organization expressed a willingness to work with the community to find a temporary solution, Bachrach said.

The idea of providing temporary shelters first arose after a meeting between town officials and community service providers Sept. 3, spearheaded by Positive Living North. At the meeting, Joan LeClair with the Smithers Action Group Association estimated Smithers’ homeless population at between 50 and 100.

During the brainstorming session, High Road Services Society executive director Dana Gorbahn offered his group’s lot on 16th Ave. as a possible location for a temporary homeless camp and committed to purchasing two to four camp-like shelters to house those in need.

The suggestion of setting up a temporary camp for homeless people on 16th Ave. has been met with opposition from those living in the vicinity.

Residents in the area near the 16th Ave. location met last week to discuss the possibility of the camps being located nearby. Some also sent letters to Town Hall opposing the  location.

One letter, signed by Peggy and Elgin Muir, said they often see people purchasing alcohol at the Hilltop and staggering over to Ranger Park to drink.

“I have grandchildren that would like to play in that park,” the letter stated. “We are enabling people to be useless by giving them everything. I raised five children here in Smithers and they all found jobs and have a good life here.”

Last week, Gorbahn told The Interior News he was taking the group’s vacant lot on 16th Ave. off the table as a possible location for the temporary shelters.

“Sixteenth Ave., as an idea, was something to discuss, but it needed further exploration to make sure all parties would be happy,” Gorbahn said.

The town has shown a willingness to allow a temporary camp to be set up on property they own, closer to the downtown core, but a specific location has yet to be discussed. If the project is to go ahead, it has to be done soon.

“The intention was to do something this fall and time is ticking — the snow is coming,” Bachrach said. “We would have to move very quickly if we are going to make something happen this year. I think it’s still worth giving it a try.”

Both SAGA and High Road Services Society are working on supported housing projects that would help to alleviate some of the concerns surrounding the issue of homelessness in Smithers but both are years away from reality.