I like to think of myself as a strategic problem solver and a critical thinker. I read my council agenda packages front to back and do independent research trying to absorb as much as possible in preparation for every meeting to be sure I am making informed decisions on whatever matter comes before me. The City of Prince George Safe Streets Bylaw came before council several times and I’ve been opposed because I’ve read about these bylaws in other communities and they are proven to not work.
So let’s start with what exactly is a Safe Streets Bylaw? It is in effect a nuisance bylaw that prohibits people from sitting, lying, soliciting or physically approaching in a manner that causes an obstruction on a street or roadway. It prohibits soliciting within ten meters of a bank, ATM, bus stop, daycare centre, liquor store, cannabis retailer, restaurant, coffee shop, or convenience store. The bylaw goes on to include solicitation prohibitions for parked vehicles, vehicles at traffic control signals, gas stations, and vehicles on the road.
The solicitation that is allowed under this bylaw is restricted and not allowed after sunset on any given day. The bylaw further disallows open drug use, disposal of drug paraphernalia in a public place, open air burning in a public place, and graffiti where it is visible from a public place. This bylaw attempts to change what Bylaw Services deems to be unacceptable behaviour and fines individuals for non-compliance.
The City of Prince George is not the first community to pass a nuisance bylaw, in fact many other communities have passed some form of nuisance bylaw. Some outright call it a nuisance bylaw, some call it a panhandling bylaw, some even call it a good neighbour bylaw. Here are some examples: Salmon Arm, Campbell River, Maple Ridge, Kamloops, Kelowna, Duncan, New Westminster, Calgary, Mission, Oshwa, Red Deer, Victoria, Enderby, Saskatoon, Swift Current.
This bylaw seems to be saying ‘homeless people should be unseen and unheard.’ Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away – this is Life 101 – so why is this situation any different? The bylaw is not fair or equitable. It relies on judgement from Bylaw officers and they’re not going to ticket your granny for sitting in front of a coffee shop, so how is it fair that someone who looks different should get a ticket?
This bylaw is intended to change undesirable behaviour. Think about the last time you got a ticket, a fine, a late fee – was your immediate response, hmmm better shape up? I’ve gotten speeding tickets, parking tickets, late fees and every single time my first response was anger and frustration – even if I was in the wrong. I am convinced that this bylaw is going to have the opposite intended affect: we are going to see more destructive behaviour; it’s going to increase crime, vandalism, and the lawlessness that’s occurring. It’s also going to break any trust we have built up making it harder in the long run to make progress on this issue. It’s a band-aid and band-aids don’t actually solve the problem.
We know what we need to make change happen in our community. We need a treatement center for women and youth. We need a sobering center. We need low and no barrier housing and more variety/stock. We need partners like Northern Health, the Province, the Federal Government, RCMP, to come to the table. We need consultation with people with lived experience, Indigenous, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ groups and others to understand the root of the issue better. We need a place for people to go during the day. The pandemic has reduced the number of people being served indoors by our social service agencies; if agencies occupancy numbers don’t increase, the only place for homeless individuals to hang out during the day is on the street.
If we had all the things we needed, perhaps I would consider this type of bylaw. But I believe there are other avenues that we need to exhaust first before implementing a nuisance bylaw.
I tried really hard to stop this bylaw from going through. I moved postponement on the bylaw when we looked at it in June, knowing that should the encampments get dissolved without housing options in place, people would move back to sleeping in doorways, on sidewalks, in parks, and these individuals would be disproportionately affected by the bylaw. I called for a change to the definition of the word Emergency in the Emergency Programs Act. This would give us funds to provide accommodation and food to our homeless population similar to how we can when taking in evacuees from wildfires and other natural disasters. I moved that we ask BC Housing to include ‘No Barrier Housing’ options in their housing strategy. Interesting fact: the word no barrier does not exist on the BC Housing site – not even in their glossary. We need to meet people where they’re at and stop requiring them to meet our list of demands or ticky box barriers in order to receive help.
My commitment to you is that I will continue to work hard for a safe, clean, and inclusive community but the city can’t do this alone. As a city, our mandate really comes down to land use and governance – health care and housing don’t really fall under our jurisdiction but we can advocate for these things. In order to do this though, we need your help. Here’s how you can make a difference:
- Write letters to your MLA, your MP, the Minister of Housing, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, and the Premier.
- Support rezonings for supportive housing and treatment centers and try to dispel any ‘not in my backyard’ sentiments – it has to go somewhere and if everyone continuously say no to this important social infrastructure being in their neighbourhood, we will never make progress this issue.
- Get out and vote for the change you want to see.
- Anytime any level of government asks for feedback, be sure to provide comment and encourage others to do the same.
- And finally, if you’re invited to some sort of consultation, look around the room and ask yourself this: is everyone who should be here present? If not, big red flag.
I believe that we can solve this complex and challenging issue but we need to do it together. If you have more ideas on how to make a difference in our community, be sure to check out my Contact page and get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks for your continued support,