"We are doing nothing:" Terrace residents sound off at town hall event on downtown crisis.

Terrace community dialogue event

The City of Terrace held a “community dialogue” town hall last night that gave residents a chance to express their concerns about the downtown and offer solutions.

The event comes almost a month after the city declared a crisis in the downtown due to the increased presence of homelessness, addiction, crime and people struggling with mental health challenges.

“Our downtown is turning into a place that people don't want to visit,” said Mayor Carol Leclerc at the opening of the event.

“We've heard from residents, businesses and visitors that they've experienced break ins, thefts and other property damage – that they feel unsafe walking in certain areas, and that they are finding discarded needles and other litter, among other challenges.”

The event began with Leclerc and Northern Health’s Northwest Director for Specialized Services Clare Hart discussing some of the initiatives they’ve taken to address the city’s social issues over the past few years. These include more supportive housing, more police, overdose prevention services and an opioid agonist therapy program.

But for many, it hasn’t been enough.

“The real picture is, we are doing nothing,” said Noman Khan, the general manager for the Terrace Days Inn.

Khan says he regularly cleans up feces from the hotel’s front door, and that the homelessness in the downtown is scaring away business. He’s also had to deal with theft and vandalism

“Last month, I lost my iPad. It's front of my eyes [and] somebody is taking it.”

At the same time, many speakers stressed the importance in listening to vulnerable people

“When we see someone struggling on the streets, instead of having this judgment about them, I would say, change your perspective and think, what has happened to them?” said Lisa Lawlee, the coordinator for the Kermode Friendship Society’s Circle of Life program.

“What has gone on in their life for them to be there?”

When it came to solutions, one group of speakers presented a multi-step approach that would involve listening to the struggles of marginalized people, collecting data about them and engaging them in the community.

“We believe that everyone has value, everyone has purpose, and we know that people on the street or in the community deserve the opportunity to have value and be a contributing member of society,” said Kristie Ebeling.

It’s an approach that received an endorsement from Skeena MLA Ellis Ross, who said it will take more than housing and treatment programs to fix the downtown’s social issues.

“Start with a survey and find out who these people are, where they came from – what is their drug of choice? What got them to the streets? And what will it take to get them out of there?”

Some speakers also said they wanted to see police and crown counsel take more action against people caught committing crimes.

“I appreciate that we need to have social programs, I appreciate that mental health is a huge thing, but we need to have Crown Counsel on board,” said a speaker at the event named Todd. “We need to have consequences.”

However, Kermode Friendship Society interim executive director Jolene Wesley questioned if a punitive approach would be appropriate for people struggling with mental health challenges.

“I'm not sure if disciplining and making someone face consequences for their actions, when they don't even remember what they're doing out on those streets, is going to be effective,” she said. “Why would you discipline someone who doesn't even remember where they're walking or what they're doing?”

Moving forward, city staff will take the feedback from both yesterday’s meeting and the city’s new public engagement platform, Engage Terrace, and compile it into a report.

But for frustrated residents, change can’t come soon enough.

“I've been here for a really long time, and it has gone so far downhill that I'm ashamed to be from here,” said J. White, a speaker at the event.

“I used to walk home at two o'clock in the morning from a friend's house because I'd have a beer and play some cards. There's not a hope in Hell I’d do that right now at 10 o'clock at night.”