Advocates push back against Terrace, B.C. resident who compared homeless people to bears

The City of Terrace will meet with community agencies to discuss whether or not to designate an area for the homeless to set up tents.

Tarea Roberge, an outreach worker for the non-profit organization Kermode Friendship Society (KFS), a group that provides support to those struggling with homelessness, said the most vulnerable in Terrace face a housing crisis, a lingering pandemic and a deadly opioid crisis.

“A housing crisis that is destroying families, an opioid crisis that is destroying families and killing people, and a community that just won’t get on board with solutions, so a lot of people are suffering on so many points coming at them, attacking them,” she said.

Last week, Roberge, along with other outreach workers and advocates, raised awareness for those struggling with homelessness by setting up tents and spending the night on the lawn at Terrace’s city hall.

The event was partly a response to a recent city council meeting where some community members spoke out against a potential shelter.

According to Roberge and reported in local media, one resident compared the homeless people in the city to a “bad bear problem,” stating that the bears get relocated or get shot.

Advocates in Terrace, B.C., outside city hall in response to a resident who compared homeless people to bears. Photo courtesy: Tarea Roberge.

At the city hall event, outreach workers and supporters wore T-shirts and had posters with the words “I am not a bear.”

William Morrison is a frontline worker for Nisga’a Valley Health. He said before turning his life around, he once lived on the streets here.

He said people need to have more compassion for those facing hard times.

“If you haven’t been in a place where you had to sleep on the streets, if you haven’t lost somebody, if you don’t have somebody out here, it’s not your problem – when, in fact, it is because we’re all one, we’re human beings, “ he said.

Morrison shared that his path was dark partly due to the inter-generational effect of residential school and his addictions.

He was once selling drugs and bootlegging alcohol in Terrace and northern B.C. regions.

It wasn’t until he went away for treatment and cultural learning that he found his new path providing hope and support.

“I want to help try to undo some of the wrong I was responsible for, and me being here right now I feel is just really a part of the path that was set for me by our Creator, “ he said.

Last month, Statistics Canada data showed British Columbia had the most unaffordable housing in Canada, with more than one-quarter of homes costing more than 30 per cent of people’s income.

The organization Kermode Friendship Society is putting pressure on Terrace politicians to provide a safe place where people who don’t have a place to stay can live. Photo: Tarea Roberge.

Terrace, B.C., located near the coast, has a population of nearly 12,000. A recent survey found there are 84 people who are homeless.

According to KFS, 79 per cent of the people in the survey identify as Indigenous.

Roberge says people on income assistance can’t afford a place to live unless they get a supplement or are forced to live in overcrowded housing due to the rising cost of living.

“People on income assistance, they simply cannot afford to live without a supplement from a community organization or piling up multiple people,” she said. “People that are working, the minimum wage doesn’t cover it, as everything gets more and more expensive wages aren’t going up to meet it.”

She added that the City of Terrace could help designate an area for the homeless to set up tents.

“Winter is coming, there is not enough housing, there are not enough shelter spaces, our numbers are really high. People are just looking to set up a tent and create a home base, somewhere they can lay their head at night and not be moved along by a bylaw officer,” she said.

“That is not against the bylaw officer, they are doing their job, but it is up to the city to designate an area for individuals.”

Terrace officials responded to APTN News with an emailed statement saying they are not responsible for housing or shelters but support local organizations.

“The City is not responsible for providing housing/shelter space, but we do support organizations with that mandate. Ksan’s Emergency Weather Response Program is operational during the cold wet weather months, typically from November to March,” the statement said.

The statement added that after the council meeting, they are in talks with the community to determine if a location and new zoning for people to set up are needed.

“It was moved, seconded that administration facilitate a multi-agency discussion to determine a suitable location within the city of Terrace to provide the necessary services people need with minimal impacts on surrounding neighbourhoods, and to determine if new zoning for such a location would be appropriate.”

The city says it doesn’t have a mandate to provide affordable housing.

But according to the B.C. government, “Local governments play a key role in supporting affordable housing in B.C. All sizes of local governments are using an array of tools including regional growth strategies, housing action plans, and zoning to support housing affordability.”

Roberge said spending the night last week in a tent at city hall triggered her memories of once being homeless on the streets of Edmonton.

She says that terrible feeling for one night makes her fight harder for change for those who are experiencing homelessness right now.

“It made me realize that I am pretty privileged to have those simply as memories and not living it right now, and it made me want to push harder. It made me want to help people more because they don’t deserve to feel that way. That was only one night for me, and I can’t imagine what people are feeling right now, “ she said.

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