A Terrace social services worker speaks with a citizen living in a tent in April of this year.

We can’t put homelessness on the back burner

Guest Columnist Steve Smyth hopes people won't go silent on the homelessness situation in Terrace, B.C.

I’ve been watching with concern to see the next developments in the ongoing homelessness situation in Terrace and area. In the weeks since the K’san rezoning application was rejected, it seems, at least to outsiders, that the various parties have gone back to their individual silos to discuss their next moves amongst themselves.

Important questions remain unanswered and a number of people I have spoken with are concerned that the delay we currently find ourselves in will result in a loss of momentum and in some cases, positive energy that seemed to have been building.

The questions I hear most often regard the administration and responsibility for homeless people throughout the area.

The K’san Housing Society has a well-earned reputation for delivering well administered and much needed programs locally. The Salvation Army’s history of helping those in need has deep roots in the area and the Terrace Churches Food Bank and the All Nations Centre on Davis have also been active locally for a long period of time.

The question that needs to be asked is that at what point did the care and feeding of the needy officially become strictly a religious or volunteer responsibility?

Two weeks ago, the federal government announced a program distributing more than $112 million to 61 mostly larger communities across Canada identified as having extreme homelessness issues. Sadly, Terrace was not on the list, nor were any northern B.C. communities represented other than Prince George.

There were also monies made available for initiatives to support rural and remote homelessness and additional monies targeted to aboriginal specific issues. Last week, the provincial government announced $50 million specifically targeted toward aboriginal housing issues.

To date there is no indication where this money will be spent, but from the great silence in local and online media, there doesn’t seem to be an outcry from this area to attract some of this substantial funding.

Internet searches over the past year reveal no press releases, speeches or commentary publicly available from our local senior elected officials, either provincial or federal,

While money is becoming available from multiple sources, both offices remained silent, at least as far as publicly available media information would reveal.

Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin’s office was also curiously absent from the conversation regarding the rezoning application, especially since housing is a provincial responsibility.

Perhaps these types of things are handled differently and discretely behind closed doors, but speaking from past experience, most politicians normally beat the drums a lot louder when they become involved in matters of this importance.

Regardless, the question remains; why is the care and support of our most vulnerable citizens left in the hands of volunteer boards, church groups and well-meaning individuals?

Where is the support, co-operation and most importantly, leadership of our senior governments?

Why is it that the level of government least equipped to handle it is left to provide shelter and lodging for homeless families and individuals?

And why, if our homeless numbers are growing at such an alarming rate, isn’t someone in a position of elected responsibility screaming at those senior governments from the rooftops about it?

Locally, the city’s homelessness task force is doing the best they can with the limited mandate they are dealing with.

Its last report identified gaps in the system but, as it wasn’t in their mandate, no innovative or creative solutions.

There are remarkable things happening in communities across B.C. and across Canada. I, and others, urge our the city to fully empower its homelessness committee to investigate them in detail and perhaps try implement at least some of them locally, preferably before winter sets in.

I commend those who are trying their best, sometimes, with their hands tied, to make a difference in our community. Let’s not let this drop or push it to the back burner as we have in the past. People’s lives depend on our choices.

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