City staff have yet to come up with an alternative for where to put an overnight tent city, where homeless people could sleep outdoors, since council rejected staff’s first idea in August of using the front lawn of city hall. There is now what the city is calling a “temporary encampment” at the former Co-op lot on Greig Ave.
Because indoor shelter spaces in Terrace don’t meet demand, the city isn’t allowed to prevent outdoor camping in specific public spaces, like parks and residential areas, without a designated overnight place for people to go. That means homeless people in Terrace can now decide where to go for themselves and if they stay in one place for long enough, case law suggests the city won’t be able to move them, as shown by the City of Prince George’s failed attempts at removing the so-called Moccasin Flats encampments there.
Pointing to a lack of public support for the city hall idea, council asked for another proposal by end of 2022, and for staff to ensure a plan for overnight camping before spring 2023 in case of an increase in homelessness.
In September, the city elected to continue the “status quo” suggesting the problem would die down over the winter as staff sought a more palatable solution. People living outside are otherwise dealt with on a “case by case” basis and moved around by bylaw officers when complaints arise.
At a council meeting on Monday Dec. 12, Linda Stevens, the social program development coordinator for the city, said there have been delays in consultation to do with where to put the tent city, adding that the number of people camping outside hasn’t gone down as much as expected this winter.
That, combined with growing homelessness observed in Terrace over the spring and summer, means bylaw enforcement capacity needs to be evaluated.
When asked by newly-minted Terrace Mayor Sean Bujtas whether an overnight-only spot where people are expected to pack up and leave in the morning is still the plan, Stevens suggested that might not be doable.
“In other communities, even with that in place, they’re still having some challenges with encampments setting up and not moving on… In northern communities where we have the cold weather it seems that case law in particular is starting to put real pressure on what can and can’t happen around encampments.”
While an overnight-only spot would work in the summertime, Bujtas said that changes when temperatures drop, adding that it’s never been the plan to set up a space for people to camp permanently “up until this point.”
“To ask somebody to pack up and move their tent in the middle of the winter seems quite inhumane to me.”
When Coun. Chris Apps asked where they’re at in coming up with solutions Stevens said they need to ‘back it up a bit’ and reevaluate because things have changed since August.
“The ground has shifted so now we’re trying to come up with a plan on shifting ground.”
Stevens added they need a clear answer from BC Housing about whether the province would cover costs of outdoor sheltering, like sanitation and supplies that has “so far not been forthcoming”.
Warning of a “slippery slope” as time goes on, Apps again asked for a timeline.
Stevens didn’t commit to a date but hinted at “more clarity” by the springtime, with one factor being the Ksan Society moving its shelter from downtown to the old Elks Hall site on Tetrault on the southside.
“The expectation is that there will be increased capacity. What that looks like is still not completely clear.”
The shelter move was planned for December but has been delayed until at least January, having secured money from the province for needed renovations, according to the Ksan Society.
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