The city is forming a group to deal with what one councillor calls a growing homelessness problem.
“We see the homeless trends from surveys, and the jump by the amount this past spring was a surprise,” said councillor Brian Downie at council’s Sept. 14 meeting, adding he suspects “the number could jump again.”
The city’s second annual count this spring noted 74 homeless, which was up from the first year of the survey, and Downie says he thinks it is probably even higher now based on what he has seen around town.
“The observation would be the number of people on the street or in tent camps has increased,” he said. “We have had come to a head on various issues about homelessness in Terrace. Whether it’s health and safety issues.”
He says the math paints a grim picture of what the winter will be like for the homeless noted in the survey when only 20-25 spots are available in a regular shelter run by the Ksan Society.
The provincial government makes money available for the society to increase spaces during the winter months but Downie wonders if that’s sufficient.
“There’s a discussion that needs to be had there. Is there enough capacity?” he asked.
“Winter’s coming up, and these folks are going to have to go some place. With that comes concerns for health and safety, and I know CN Rail are concerned about people on the track, people are concerned downtown, even facilities, like the lack of [washroom] facilities downtown.”
He points to late August fires, suspected to be caused by arson, that destroyed two abandoned buildings frequented by people as a blow to those seeking shelter.
“Those two examples, where they had the fires, people were living there. It’s not desirable housing, but at least it was a roof over their head.”
The members of the task group have not been chosen by the city, but when they are, they will be given a specific deadline to complete their meetings and come back with strategies and a plan, council decided.
Councillors Michael Prevost and Stacey Tyers recommended that the task group model itself after one in the Tri Cities area of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody on the Lower Mainland.
There, working groups are composed of housing committee members and also homeless experts and they managed to work effectively, Prevost said.
“Staff will come back to council with recommendations regarding the membership of the group and you’ll see this at the council table at a later date,” said corporate administrator Alisa Thompson.
There was also some question about setting a deadline for the group with mayor Carol Leclerc saying council should hold the task group’s “feet to the fire” to make sure they get the job done.
The Ksan Society’s winter shelter last year was located in the All Nations centre on Sparks which is operated by a Seventh Day Adventist Church society.
It provides a meal on Sundays while the Terrace and District Community Services Society has an outreach service there weekdays.