A city council meeting Monday night that began by outlining National Day for Truth and Reconciliation activities was interrupted as police were called on a group of First Nation people there to support a planned homeless shelter at the old Elks Hall on Tetrault St. to replace the current one on Lakelse Ave.
Kyle de Medeiros put forward a petition on behalf of some 372 area residents to appeal against the damp shelter, that de Medeiros and co-signers think would endanger residents, young women and children in particular.
“The petition took a lot of time, sometimes two hours for one street, because almost every house you went to had a story about how they were either victims of theft, belligerent behaviour or assault,” de Medeiros said.
In his speech, de Medeiros employed vivid imagery of young women and school children being allegedly put at risk, describing “sexual acts being committed out at all hours of the night, even within school grounds” by shelter clients that he claims to have witnessed himself.
“There’s heinous crimes such as rape,” he claimed of the area around Ksan’s other shelter on the southside, on Hall St., in accusing the society of not caring about the neighbours.
“The shelter on Hall Street and its residents constantly goes against the nuisance bylaw, the noise bylaw and the Safe Streets Bylaw, yet it’s allowed to continue to operate… Now I ask you, is that fair?”
A young woman walking her dogs and a girl playing in her front yard have had to flee from people under the influence, he said in asking the city to write a letter to Ksan and B.C. Housing to find a “more suitable location.”
“We all know in the end that Ksan has the right to do what they want with the building as long as it complies with the zoning bylaws,” said de Medeiros.
“But I ask you to please protect our youngest, most vulnerable demographic and the future of this city… and stand for the children and the residents of the southside.”
A ‘damp shelter’ allows entry to intoxicated people, but does not allow clients to drink on site.
Erica and Robert Davis attended alongside Billy Morrison, Steve Burton, Jamie Smith and Tarea Roberge in support of the shelter. After de Medeiros finished presenting Morrison became emotional and interrupted the meeting.
Morrison said not to blame homeless people, arguing those problems are because of drug dealers coming to the community, after the money that comes with big industry.
“The opposite of addiction is love and connection,” he exclaimed on his way out the door holding an orange ‘every child matters’ shirt in the air as Mayor Carol Leclerc admonished his lack of decorum.
“Your grandparents killed my grandparents for you to live here,” Robert Davis added. “You’re not welcome on this territory.”
Leclerc called for a short recess at which point city officials then cut the live feed. The group of shelter supporters then went outside and protested in front of city hall with drums and singing.
A member of de Medeiros’ delegation asked council to call the police, which city staff promptly did. Police arrived and the group continued to protest peacefully.
City of Terrace spokesperson Tyler Clarke said an officer’s presence was requested in “assisting the removal of an individual due to disruptive behavior” after attempts by mayor and council to resolve the situation.
“Prior to the specified events, Mayor Leclerc made repeated comments about being pleased to see so many people in attendance and we welcome community involvement in council meetings, however council meeting subject matter is limited to the agenda.”
Roberge told The Terrace Standard outside city hall that she understands council’s reaction of calling police, adding that the plight of unhoused people, many of whom are Indigenous, is personal for Morrison.
Terrace RCMP Cpl. Josh Smith confirmed police arrived at city hall at around 8:30 p.m. in response to at least two callers reporting a disturbance at the meeting.
“Upon police attendance there was no disturbance at the meeting, however there was protesters outside but they were peaceful and no other issues resulted,” Smith said.
“It looks like they did stop the live feed to their meeting due to the disturbance.”
Coun. Sean Bujtas said the city has been thrust into an “us versus them situation” because the province hasn’t properly addressed the issue of homelessness, and the community needs to unite and lobby the government.
“I understand people that don’t want a shelter beside them because we’ve seen the impacts,” Bujtas said.
“Then I see the flip of it where I see folks that are worried about the life of their family members who are out on the streets. How do I balance those things?”
Near the end of the meeting, southside resident Timothy Boyce compared homeless people in the neighbourhood to having a “bad bear problem,” adding that “when you’ve got a bad bear problem they either get relocated or shot.”
Despite comments by de Medeiros to the contrary, the old Elks Hall building is appropriately zoned for a shelter in the same way as previous shelters in Terrace. It is not in the city’s power to stop the project.
The city in fact issued a letter of support for the Ksan society to apply for grants to fund renovations at the location in August, after the society bought the building.
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