Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The North Day Three -- Smithers, Hazelton

Today we spent most of the afternoon in what is perhaps the most beautiful setting anywhere. We met with Chief Marjorie McRae of the Gitanmaax Band and Band members in Hazelton. With the snow capped mountains keeping watch over this exquisite valley we had a wide ranging discussion about homelessness, poverty, mental health and social conditions.

We heard about the terrible shortage of affordable housing, about the extremely poor conditions (mice, mould, cold) of many rental apartments, about the lack of stable and supportive housing for people who have succesfully completed treatment for alcohol and drug dependencies, about the large number of youth who are couch surfing and therefore at risk, about a mother with two young children who has absolutely no safe place to live so the band is paying for her to stay in a motel.

One woman courageously told us of her experience couch surfing for the last 15 years. A man explained that he often lets young people stay in his home because they have nowhere else to go and he fears for their safety. He also told us how devestating it is to see elders of the community on the street with nowhere to live.

We also heard from two articulate young women about programs in town that are making a difference -- especially a film course for youth sponsored by the Canadian Film Board which inspired youth by giving them new skills and encouraging their creativity. We watched several of these excellent short movies.

These remarkable people shared with us their challenges and obstacles, but also their hopes and dreams. It was an experience we won't soon forget and we thank them for their graciousness and their hospitality.

We committed to pursue the idea of provincially sponsored transition housing in Hazelton and will take up this issue with their local MLA and the Minister.

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