A City of Terrace councillor wants to form a regional lobby group to pressure the provincial government to fix the city’s growing social issues crisis.
Although most evident by a visible downtown homeless population, Sean Bujtas said the problems go beyond the city and those without a home and it would be be wrong to fixate on the homeless.
“We need to make sure the province understands the issues more than just homelessness and just putting more housing into Terrace is not enough,” he told council at its April 12 meeting in presenting a motion calling for a gathering of northwest local governments and First Nations.
“The province needs to step up and wage war on drug addiction, not the drug addict and it needs to wage war on homelessness and not the homeless,” Bujtas continued.
The challenge is that Terrace’s central location means it draws people in from the region for all kinds of reasons, he noted.
“With Terrace being the hub of the northwest, many communities in the area shop and play in Terrace, just like you and I, and feel Terrace is an extension of their home.”
Bujtas said he’s been talking to various elected leaders across the region who agree the social issues facing Terrace are regional and not centralized to the city.
“We are stronger in numbers and pressuring the provincial government with a united front to fix this crisis may being some much needed attention to this issue,” he said.
The call for regional action comes as signs of homelessness, drug use, anti-social behaviour continue to grow in the downtown core, sparking concerns from citizens about personal safety and from businesses about crime and shoplifting.
There was very little debate from council members in passing the motion from Bujtas. It directs city staffers to contact the regional district, local governments and First Nations governments to being putting the lobby group together.
The city’s social issues are also on the radar of Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross who is predicting that the “public safety crisis” will worsen if not addressed.
Ross is proposing a non-partisan approach by bringing all leaders – municipal, regional, First Nations, provincial and federal – to the table.
“There’s a solution out there but our politics and ideology keep us apart. We need to put away our politics, our sensitivities and have a sobering talk about reality,” said Ross.
There have been calls for the city to hire more RCMP officers or to find other methods to enforce law and order downtown.
For its part the province in the past several years has purchased and converted a local motel into living units for single people and has assembled a modular housing complex behind the courthouse, a combined expenditure of approximately $12 million. Both are now being run by local social services agencies.
A housing complex meant for Indigenous people is to be built on Lazelle Ave. beside the bowling alley and a second housing complex, this one for women and children fleeing domestic violence, is to be built on the same block. Both are being financed by the province.
The province has also started a mental health service in Terrace called Foundry, part of a province-wide initiative, to provide supports for young people.
With files from Binny Paul