Dozens of homeless people are living in tents or makeshift shelters in Williams Lake, the city’s director of protective services confirmed Monday, Sept. 25.
Several tents are set up on the top bench above the river valley behind the Station House Gallery and Surplus Herby’s on property that belongs to BC Rail, Evan Dean said, noting the last count indicated there were about 50 unhoused people in the city.
“We are always trying to find any supportive agencies that can help try and get them out of those areas, but we do have the reality that if we force BC Rail to relocate them, where are they going to end up?” Dean said.
He noted the city does not want to be in a scenario where it forces people to move and they end up going further into the river valley, or they go back downtown leaning up against buildings.
In May 2023, city council approved a temporary measure to allow people to camp overnight in a designated space at the east end of Boitanio Park from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Dean said not very many people have camped there since though.
Compared to past years, however, this summer was “quite a bit better” and more manageable in terms of complaints to the bylaw department.
“Typically we would have got complaints about people squatting on a public property and making a mess. That was taking quite a bit of time because it was difficult for us to try and relocate anybody and find them a place to stay.”
He said there have been less fires as well, but with the weather changing he is concerned about people having a fire or using propane to heat a tent and possibly dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.
He plans to send bylaw officers out to talk with all the individuals living in those tents or shelters to find out what plans they have.
At the committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, Sept. 26, city council received a report from Dean about a June 5, 2023, meeting where 26 people from 14 different organizations met to have an open discussion about homelessness.
It is hoped there will be a follow-up meeting in the near future and the possibility of creating an inter-agency action plan, the report said.
City chief administrative officer Gary Muraca said when staff and some of council met with the premier at the Union of BC Municipalities Conference last week they asked about homelessness and were told the government is intending to bring out some new legislation this fall.
He suggested council should wait to see what that legislation entails before working on any bylaws for the city around homelessness.
In the meantime, a report and bylaw for a clean team that would deal with drug paraphernalia and human waste in the downtown will be coming forward to the Oct. 3 regular council meeting for first reading.