UPDATE: No resolution was reached in this situation on Friday. Cathryn Olmstead, executive director of Smithers Community Services Association says it will be taken up again Monday.
A woman who was served a 24-hour eviction notice yesterday from a new camp for homeless people has been given a reprieve.
Brenda Shaffer told The Interior News she showed up at the camp last week, shortly after the Town of Smithers relocated six homeless people from the downtown core to a town property on the outskirts of Smithers.
On Wednesday afternoon, she received an eviction notice from bylaw officer Matt Davey, who said his hand was forced after three days of negotiations had failed to get her to leave voluntarily.
Shaffer said it was too much to expect people like her to toe the line.
“People on the street walk in circles,” she said. “Somebody laid down a straight line and they’re trying to get everybody to walk in a straight line down here where we’re still walking circles.”
But Davey said the beds at the camp have already been allocated.
“The camp was intended for 10 known individuals around town. It was a joint partnership between BC Housing and the Town of Smithers to [house] those people who were already known to the service providers in Smithers as being highest risk and homeless, and also at the highest risk of contamination [by the COVID-19 virus] in the downtown core because they’re sleeping in bank vestibules, hotel stairways, etc.”
Six of those 10 people occupied the camp last week by consent, Davey said, but the other four have not been located.
Davey noted that although there are four vacancies, people can’t just move in.
“The wellness camp is a managed facility, managed at an arm’s length, but it’s managed,” he said.
“[Shaffer] set up there without permission and there is a process that needs to be followed. There’s a form that needs to be filled out that you can get at Goodacre Place or at SCSA (Smithers Community Services Association) and it’s basically aimed at determining your need and your level of risk.”
Shaffer said there was no indication at the camp that there were rules for inhabitation and was welcomed with open arms by the other residents. She insists she belongs there and said she asked Davey for 72 hours to prove it, but he refused.
“We’re looking for compassion and understanding; not policing and manipulation,” she said. “We want to be informed. What are the policies? Who’s in charge? Can they bring a mental health worker when they come to do any policing because people with mental disabilities are constantly misunderstood.
“We’re not idiots, we’re just hard to deal with, and I’m begging for some mercy and I’m praying to my God that, and we’re all hoping that, this traumatic situation of an eviction from a homeless camp is not perpetrated on me.”
She said she called the town yesterday to request that.
Davey did bring advocates from Positive Living North and Northern Health Mental Health and Addictions when he showed up this afternoon at the camp to enforce the eviction.
It was a tense situation, with one resident placing logs across the entrance to the camp and angrily confronting Davey, but cooler heads prevailed.
Following an hour-long negotiation, from which Davey recused himself, a compromise was reached. The town gave Shaffer another 24 hours to go through the proper channels and get permission to stay in the camp.
She said a little bit of flexibility was all she was looking for and was grateful. She said she would fill out the forms and consult with the service providers tomorrow.
Davey said the town will continue to maintain order. The original impetus for the camp, he said, was to give people who, by virtue of their homelessness, are unable to observe provincial physical distancing and stay-at-home directives – a place to self-isolate.
“If word gets out among the local population that you can just go down and set up at the camp, and we’re not going to do anything about it, it will quickly, quickly grow out of control,” he said. “There’s a family there, for instance, that is vulnerable and we want to maintain that protection for them. We don’t want it to turn into a 30-man, free-for-all.”