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Veterans Peace Park will temporarily continue to be homeless encampment location

Smithers council will reassess location next spring
A homeless encampment at Veterans Peace Park will remain in place until at least next year. (Marisca Bakker/The Interior News)

After months of debates, public meetings, petitions and outrage from citizens, Smithers council has finally given a new parks bylaw third reading.

It was on the agenda several times for third reading, but councillors were always 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 could 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.

And for now, that is where it will stay.

The bylaw, as presented to council on Tuesday evening, would see temporary overnight sheltering allowed in Veterans Peace Park only.

However, council added a sunset clause to the bylaw.

The amendment was an expiry date of April 30, 2024 for the location of the camp.

READ MORE: Possible parks bylaw changes irks residents

Councillor Sam Raven said she is looking at this as strictly a temporary solution.

“I did not want it to be there, but I don’t see another choice,” she said. “We have exhausted every avenue. I think that staff and this council has turned over every single stone. And again, this is not the solution. I don’t believe that anyone around here thinks that this is a solution.

“This is a band-aid and give staff the tools to be able to have cleanups and take downs and it’s something we can utilize.

“But it doesn’t stop us from continuing to advocate for more supportive housing and shelter spaces which this council has done and continues to do.”

The vote was not unanimous. Councillors Patterson, Elliott and Leonard opposed it.

“I feel like I’ve betrayed the business community,” said Coun. John Buikema, who nevertheless voted for the bylaw. He added he understands no one wants the encampment in their backyard but that it has to go somewhere.

Head of the downtown merchants association, Grant Harris, said the downtown merchants would have preferred that the encampment not be there at all.

“There were elements within it that were unsavoury and causing both physical harm and economic harm for quite a number of the downtown merchants,” he said. “But they [council] had to make a decision. And that’s what we elect them and pay them meagerly for.”

He hopes in the long term, council and citizens put more pressure on other levels of governments to come up with a better solution, and find funding to better help those living in the encampment.

The encampment’s next door neighbour, the Smithers Public Library said their sentiment since the encampment started there has stayed the same.

“The encampment is not a solution to the issues of homelessness and addiction, but until a better approach is found, the library recognises that Veterans’ Peace Park is the most logical location for the encampment,” said library director Wendy Wright.

“As the encampment’s closest neighbours, the Library requires more support and resources from the Town to effectively manage the situation.”

READ MORE: Smithers council struggles with parks bylaw


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Marisca Bakker

About the Author: Marisca Bakker

Marisca was born and raised in Ontario and moved to Smithers almost ten years ago on a one-year contract.
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