The true measure of a community is how it treats its most vulnerable members.
When a news tip comes in like the one we received last week about the Town moving homeless people to a camp on the outskirts of town, our reaction is always that the story could go either way, but the odds are usually in favour it’s going to some kind of half-measure with unintended consequences or bad news.
Homelessness is a complex issue and dealing with it is a delicate balancing act between providing help and respecting people’s rights.
This is particularly so in these unprecedented times when governments have seen fit to invoke emergency measures and civil liberties for all of us have been curtailed, albeit mostly voluntarily, at least so far.
Under these circumstances, it is very easy for authorities to overstep their bounds. In this case, however, it looks like Smithers got it right.
It appears the effort was born of genuine concern for the safety of a population who, at the best of times, experiences elevated risks, much more so than those of us who can retreat to havens of comfort.
The solution was made possible by a remarkable exercise in cooperation and collaboration between three levels of government, half a dozen social and health services agencies and several local businesses.
More importantly, it involved the consent and cooperation of the people themselves. And we saw for ourselves they are grateful.
Also remarkable is how quickly it all came together, in just over a week from identification of the problem to occupation of the camp.
We are told the story is generating buzz in government and social services circles as a potential model.
It has also been well-received by our Black Press colleagues, not for our reporting of it, but for the initiative itself.
Journalists tend to be skeptical—some might even say cynical—by nature, training and experience.
So, it is worth mentioning, the reaction has been basically, ‘wow, Smithers did that?”
Of course, only time will measure true success, and whether it is sustainable.
In the meantime, good on BC Housing for providing funding; on the Town, Summit Camps and BV Electric for building the camp; on the regional district and credit union for financial support of ongoing operational costs; on Smithers Community Services Association, Salvation Army, Positive Living North, Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre, Northern Society for Domestic Peace and Smithers Community Policing for taking their services to the people at the camp; and on the residents of the camp themselves for doing their part in helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Let’s hope, on the other side of this thing, we can maintain the compassion, determination, and urgency demonstrated by this positive community effort.