Homeless advocate Miriam McKay carefully places water bottles, snacks and donated clothing on a picnic table near the Tim Hortons on Lazelle Ave. Aug. 22.
It’s part of a weekly initiative McKay has taken on to help and show compassion for people experiencing homelessness in Terrace. She was able to raise around $120 to purchase food and clothing, $70 came just from bottle returns.
In two hours, McKay says she gave out food and clothing to around 30 people at the picnic table.
“I have this constant urge that I need to be helping people out here and seeing all my family and close friends that I worked with at the [Terrace damp shelter],” she says.
McKay has experienced what it’s like to struggle with addictions and to be homeless when she lived in Prince George. When she moved to Vancouver, McKay says a women’s resource society gave her a chance to get clean and work in one of their shelters serving the most difficult clients in the city. She describes the situation in Terrace as ‘tame’ in comparison to her time spent in the lower mainland, when she saw between five to six overdoses in a day.
But she says homelessness in Terrace is only going to get worse if something isn’t done. Even after the opening of the Sonder House supportive housing project on Olson Ave. adjacent to the Northern Health Authority health unit building, the situation in the city has not improved, she says.
“I noticed there’s a lot of younger people coming from other towns. If they’re new, they might not know what resources are available here,” McKay says. “It’s getting really scary, especially when I see people who look like they’re 17, 18 years old and they’re just strung out.”
Tom Hanks, 29, has lived on his own for the last eight years and has become a recognized face in Terrace. Originally from Alberta, Hanks has hitchhiked up and down the west coast and comes back to Terrace often. He says he was one of the first two people to move into the 52-unit Sonder House when it opened last June.
“They got a picture of us,” Hanks says, sitting on a bench next to the picnic table.
Since moving into the Sonder House Hanks says it has been difficult adjusting from a life on the street to a supportive housing complex, one that comes with rules and restrictions.
“I’m lost a bit, but I want it to be better for people. I don’t want to complain,” he says.
What is happening in Terrace now reminds him of what happened in 2014 when anticipation over a positive financial investment decision for the LNG Canada project was high. He says he was renovicted from his own apartment here after rental prices went through the roof.
Hanks says he is glad to know there is a public forum scheduled on Sept. 3 on homelessness and hopes it will act as a catalyst for more inclusive, compassionate discussion.
“We should get people together to talk to each other instead of harassing people on the street. There’s a better way,” he says.
Creating more low-income housing and addiction services is paramount, McKay says. Along with food and clothing, she carries a first aid kit and harm reduction supplies with her. Recognizing the symptoms of fentanyl use from her time in Vancouver, McKay says more people are using it in Terrace because of the drug’s low cost.
“We need to start doing something before it’s too late. Before we end up with a Skid Row like Vancouver, before we end up with high death rates,” she says. “My point is to try and be out here for them to talk to, someone to talk to, someone to connect with, show them compassion and let them know that you’re here to listen. It takes one person to hear you out and it could change your whole life.”