Pull together to help the homeless

Guest commentator Steve Smyth says now is the time to band together to help our own in the Terrace community

The recent rejection of a rezoning attempt to create a “wet” or “damp”  shelter for the local homeless population has created a great deal of ill will, confrontation and confusion between members of the general public, the business community and the societies and groups who are created to look after such matters.

At a raucous special council meeting, and in the heat of the moment, things were said by both sides that I’m sure they’d like to retract in the cold light of reconsideration.

No one in the business community that I know bears any ill will towards any of the people or families that find themselves in need of these services.

Those members of the community that did take the time to speak out against the recent proposal were mainly concerned with what effect this rezoning would have on their own, very personal investment by placing it in the middle of a retail shopping area.

To be clear, hackneyed phrases that have been thrown around like “the moneyed few” or “rich elites” do not describe most of the small business people that I know in Terrace.

If you were to walk up and down the 4600 blocks of Lazelle or Lakelse, you would be hard pressed to find a store that you could describe as a “wealthy business”.

Most local business owners do not own yachts, sports cars or summer homes abroad. Their investment is tied up in their own store and their retirement plan, if they have one, consists of selling that business to the next person than comes along.

It’s a fact that most employees working in small businesses usually have more toys and vacations than the owner who has sacrificed all to start that business.

Looked at from that point of view, you can imagine how anything perceived as a danger to the value and viability of that business would be construed as a possible threat.

Both the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce and the Terrace Downtown Improvement Association have been struggling to make the downtown “core” of Terrace a more family friendly, clean and welcoming environment to bring retail customers back into the 4700/4600 blocks of Park, Lazelle, Lakelse and Emerson.

In the opinion of their members, this well-intentioned rezoning application from Ksan was simply the wrong place for this facility.

To make matters worse, very little, if any, prior consultation was conducted with local property owners.

Most of the people affected were only informed at the last minute, leading to a feeling that the rezoning was happening in secrecy.

The real “black hats” in all of this are not local people seeking to protect their investments but the senior levels of governments that not only allow these needs to exist, but who offload their responsibility to look after the people who need it most.

Possibly one of the most important results of the discussion after the vote was that people began to identify multiple groups requiring different types of support and assistance.

There are the truly homeless and the ones with mental health issues that genuinely need our support in finding a warm, safe place to sleep and medical help.

There is also small, but growing group that is causing the majority of the trouble and these are largely the ones responsible for harassing shoppers and families.

These diverse groups need different types of support and assistance, including enhanced downtown policing.

Since the rezoning attempt, letters have been written, names have been called and wounds are left to fester, creating division and anger where coordination and cooperation are needed.

A recent poster on The Terrace Standard website pronounced that “we look after our own” and he is correct.

Northerners help northerners and if you scratch the surface of this small town, you will find countless examples of this happening every day.

From donations to causes big and small, to cooperation between boards, associations and societies and businesses, local people work together to get things accomplished.

Now is the time for us to work together to help our own in the best way we know how, and that’s by talking, and listening, to each other.

Steve Smyth is a past director of the Terrace-Kitimat Airport Society and a current director of the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce.