Concrete steps were taken to address Smithers’ homeless problem before winter begins at a council of the whole meeting at Town Hall Tuesday night.
A room full of community health professionals gathered with town councillors to brainstorm ways to deal with the short-term needs of the homeless community before the mercury drops.
“This has to happen now. This is an emergency. People need to have shelter,” said Joan LeClair with the Smithers Action Group Association.
Organizations such as the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society, Office of the Wet’suwet’en, Northern Health and Positive Living North were in attendance at the meeting.
LeClair estimated the Smithers homeless population to be at between 50 and 100 and said she knows of three people who died last year due to the effects of sleeping outdoors.
Strategies such as building permanent tent camps, gaining access to spaces at churches and gymnasiums, looking at renting available motel rooms, using modified shipping containers and utilizing vacant buildings were all thrown around as possible short-term solutions.
By the end of the two-hour session, High Road Services Society executive director Dana Gorbahn pledged to plead with his board for the budget to purchase and set up three temporary housing structures on land they own on 16th Ave., across from the Hilltop Pub.
While council and staff said the location on 16th Ave. and Main St. is still up for debate, most seemed to agree the proposal could work for the coming winter.
Three shelters could accommodate up to 12 people.
High Road would coordinate health care for the individuals living in the units.
“Another key important part is they’ll have a specific location so they can access health care, get a post office box, get identification,” Gorbahn said. “You can’t get those things unless you have a physical location so this could help them achieve those kinds of things.”
High Road Services Society is one organization that is currently working on building a supportive housing project in Smithers.
The other is the Smithers Action Group Association. Town council has given that group a piece of land for a development they are working on.
The SAGA project would allow homeless people to have their own space and access to health care services, LeClair said.
“There’s a number of models for this kind of housing. The Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver is one great model. It’s a home for people and they get the support they need, preventatively, before things happen.”
But this supportive housing development is as many as five years away from reality.
At the meeting, Smithers councillors also approved a motion to speak with BC Housing to see what emergency funding they have that could be used to address the need.
For the complete story, see the Sept. 11 edition of The Interior News.