Chris Gee stands with a homeless friend in the woods between the Terrace law courts and the Terrace Sportsplex.
The friend, who prefers not to be photographed or identified, met Gee at the now-closed Skeena Bicycle Service a couple years ago when Gee helped him get a second hand bike fixed up.
They came together on a cold, wet mid-September morning to talk about the health and safety of the homeless population in Terrace.
The friend points into the woods, groves of bushes and grass that most people wouldn’t pay much attention to, where wet garbage and remains of campfires become visible.
And within this array, soggy tents where the homeless sleep.
Just a day earlier, the man and his homeless friends were told by a City of Terrace staff member driving a city truck to vacate a spot over on Lazelle Ave. where they had tents set up.
“We were up there for a month and they came over yesterday morning at around eight. And they said ‘you guys have until 2 o’clock to get your stuff out of here, otherwise we are going to throw it in the garbage’.”
Gee, an instructor at Northwest Community College, has a problem with people in his community living in squalor because of a lack of social housing and shelter space.
As an avid cyclist, Gee cruises Terrace Mountain trails regularly and is always saddened to see garbage, used needles and to witness the violence that happens so close to institutions of civic stability on Kalum St.
“All I thought, was, this is the health unit right there, the courthouse is right there, those are two bastions of health and well-being in society, or they are meant to be,” Gee reflected.
“But on the very same block there are people suffering from deep addiction. There is violence that happens in here, and there are people who are suffering, right in the same block.”
Life in the wet woods is not fun for Gee’s friend who, like many others, has recurring substance problems and deep psychological trauma that dogs him every day.
He says $30,000 from a federal residential school compensation program didn’t last long.
“It’s tough. When I’m laying in the bush soaking wet, I sometimes want to give up. That hurts,” he said.
The man’s’ sense of humour, good spirit and intelligence keeps him hopeful of finding a home and job, but he says the majority of those he knows in the woods will never be rehabilitated.
What they need are humane conditions to continue living, however marginalized they might be.
“Out of all the guys I know who are homeless, there are only a couple of us who are wanting to work and find a place. The rest don’t care, sad to say,” he says.
The Ksan Society’s year-round shelter is of little help to those in the thralls of addiction. “You have one drink of beer and they will kick you out,” says the man.
Even a place to keep his clothes would help. Out in the bush his clothes are always being stolen.
The homeless problem has not gone completely unnoticed with city council, who recently decided to form a task group to find solutions to the rising homeless population, which was estimated to be 74 earlier this year.
Part of the group’s mandate will be to make sure that communication happens between various community groups and also that there is enough room in emergency shelters this winter. General safety will also be discussed.
Gee’s friend says an emergency shelter for the colder months of the year doesn’t open early enough.
“I keep hearing talk of a wet shelter for alcoholics, but they won’t open it up until it’s zero, and I mean it’s cold right here, it’s soaking wet. I know so many people right now crashed out in makeshift little gazebos that aren’t really even tents.”
The burning down of two abandoned buildings in August that were used by the homeless has compounded the problem.
“It was a big loss, because it was dry place to stay, a warm place, ten of us could go sleep in there but now we are finding it hard to find a place to sleep,” said the man of one of the abandoned locations that burned down on Park Ave.
As a severe addict in a town with no detox or rehab centre, he relies on the Terrace and District Community Services Society for counseling to get off the streets, a service which he says frequently requires booking almost two months in advance.
“You just fall into a deeper drunk,” he lamented.