Smithers council is still working through updating the town’s parks bylaw.
It was on the agenda at the last regular council meeting for third reading but councillors were unable to come to any agreement in one section of the bylaw that deals with temporary overnight sheltering.
The Town is obligated to provide a safe space or spaces where unhoused people can shelter overnight. However, no one can seem to agree on where that space should be or if it should require people living there to pack up every morning or be allowed to keep their tents up all day.
Currently, there is a semi-permanent encampment in Veterans Peace Park across from Smithers Town Hall.
Town staff recently cleaned up the garbage there.
An open house to get feedback on the possible changes to the almost century-old parks bylaw drew a huge crowd last month.
Around 200 people came out and while no one really wants an encampment in their backyard, a lot of people had compassion for those who are unhoused.
The bylaw, as presented to council on Tuesday evening, would see temporary overnight sheltering be allowed Veterans Peace Park only.
“I am really struggling with having it in its present location,” said Councillor John Buikema. “And for me, there are three main reasons for that. One of them is I feel like a lot of residents have come forward and said, ‘I don’t want it in my backyard, whether it be Ranger Park, Dogwood Park, etc.’
“But I feel like if residents have the right to say not in my backyard, I feel like the business community should also have that right to say, I don’t want it in my backyard. And we’ve heard the frustrations, especially from business owners who live close by.”
He added he also doesn’t like the location because he has heard from people who aren’t using the library anymore because of its proximity to the camp. He also wants it moved because residents have told him they feel unsafe in town.
Councillor Frank Wray wanted to deal with the bylaw at the meeting and get it settled.
“Because if we don’t, then the entrenchment that we saw last summer’s coming up, and again, we don’t have resources to give it, I think we’ve already asked a lot of town staff. So without having a discussion about what to do, I think we need to do something with the bylaw tonight, and then work on the bigger problem with a Committee of the Whole.”
However, other councillors disagreed. Councillor Genevieve Paterson said she will not support the bylaw as is.
“I don’t want to see any overnight sheltering in any park. So none of the locations. The only location that I would like to see us explore is 19th Avenue,” she said.
She also said at the meeting, she would like to see experts invited to a Committee of the Whole to discuss the issue, such as representatives from Northern Health.
Councillor Sam Raven echoed the need for a separate meeting on the issue.
“We need to have the opportunity to actually delve through this because this is not an easy answer,” she said.
“This isn’t anything that can be fixed per se, but we need to come at it as what can we do to improve things and start that journey and work forward from there, I don’t think that we’re gonna be able to create this magical bylaw that magically changes everything.”
After more than an hour discussing it and going back and forth, council decided to leave the bylaw for now and have a Committee of the Whole meeting in the near future.