Homeless citizens are now in their second week of protest in front of city hall with participants demanding the city address housing issues.
Protesters first appeared last week waving signs and encouraging motorists to honk in support.
Marjorie Brown, who organized the demonstration with other women staying at Ksan’s transition house, is calling on the city to help those who are homeless gain employment and eventually find housing.
“I’d like to see them put up an area for a tent city and then leave them alone, I’d like to see them provide a place for people to access mail so they can get a job, I’d like to see them build a more stable housing situation here,” she said.
The protesters say their actions are prompted by the soaring number of people experiencing homelessness in Terrace and city council’s decision last month to deny a rezoning request made by Ksan House Society to turn a vacant building on Lazelle Ave. into a homeless shelter.
Angel Morgan and Raquel Mercer, who joined Brown at the protest, want to see the time limit put on shelter stays extended beyond the standard 30 days.
“It needs to be at least three months,” Morgan said. “Who could find place to stay and look for jobs [and try] to get their life together in one month.”
The protesters decided to occupy the front lawn of city hall after Brown’s time at the transition house ended and she was given a tent by a support agency because she had no place else to go.
She says she was allowed to return to the transition house after staff heard of her protest.
Ksan director Lisa Schmidt explained that stays at the shelters are limited so that spaces remain open for people in crisis, saying that the shelter would always be at capacity otherwise.
That time limit may be extended if a client has a place lined up, but Morgan noted that rent prices are making it very difficult for her to find a place she can afford.
Even after Brown was allowed back into the shelter, the women still set up a tent in front of city hall to keep attention on homelessness.
According to Brown, the issue reaches farther than the 101 people living outdoors counted by Terrace and District Community Services Society last month and includes homeless youth and those who are couch surfing.
“There’s a lot more than what’s written down,” she remarked.
‘It’s a provincial issue’: mayor
Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc, speaking last week during the several days Brown had sent up her tent on the city hall lawn, said she was fine with having the camp in front of city hall so long as any protest remained small.
“It’s one person, one tent – if it became 20 tents then that would be a different story,” said Leclerc at the time.
Leclerc added: “we know that we have 101 homeless people in Terrace and it must be very frustrating for people who are seeking housing and for whatever the reasons are unable to get housing.”
The mayor said city council was waiting for its homelessness task force to issue an interim report, something which will take place at tonight’s city council meeting, before it decides on any further course of action.
“The city is not doing anything to respond in the meantime, it’s a provincial issue,” she noted prior to the report’s release.
City denies connection with tent removal
City officials say there is no connection between the city and reports circulating widely that someone has been taking down tents or other outdoor shelters and removing them along with items belonging to the homeless.
City administrator Heather Avison said there was only one location at which city workers removed items earlier this spring and that was on city-owned forested land on the corner of Tetrault St. and Haugland Ave. on the southside.
“We removed shopping carts with miscellaneous items and only after asking the owner to remove them first with no success. We only took them away when they appeared to be abandoned there,” she said.
“It has been an ongoing concern of neighbours in the area.”
Earlier this month Ksan’s shelters were overflowing as clients reported their tents and possessions had been removed.
‘I just can’t seem to get on my feet’
For the protesters, homelessness is something which they would like to see addressed by the city immediately.
“My mom was on the street her last few years and she was in an abusive relationship, an alcoholic, she was fighting lupus and we lost her,” Angel Morgan explained. “And so this is my way of helping to support those people, we just want this to stop.”
“I’m 46 years old and I’m homeless, I just can’t seem to get on my feet,” she said.
Similarly, Raquel Mercer says she is very grateful that Ksan provides the shelters, but notes “more services need to be out there.”
“There are some people who are computer illiterate, there are some people who are too afraid to go and apply for assistance, they just won’t even try,” she said.
Since Mercer lost her place when she says her landlord tricked her out, she has been homeless on and off for over a year now.
“Years ago I was stable,” she reflected. “After being outside there for two whole weeks I started feeling the coldness hit my bones and every bone in my body ached.”
Still she says “it hurts a lot having to ask for help.”
The women agreed that it is not safe to be homeless because of the risk of being the targets of violence. For that reason, none of them wanted to remain in front of city hall overnight where they were so visible.
Brown also says that there is a substantial stigma attached to people who have low incomes making it hard for them to find a place to stay, which is why she is advocating for the city to allow a tent community.
“People don’t want people on welfare living next to them,” she explained.
A BC Supreme Court ruling in last October found that people had a right to set up shelter in public spaces between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. if there was no other housing available to them.