Boots on the ground.
That was the message from Downtown Prince George president Eoin Foley to city council Monday as his association, along with the Prince George Chamber of Commerce and the Gateway BIA presented ideas on dealing with social issues downtown.
“First and foremost, an immediate action item would be boots on the ground,” said Foley, when asked by Coun. Frank Everitt for some priorities in a long list of suggestions from the three business groups. “Whether its increased bylaw enforcement or RCMP, it would at least alleviate how people feel when they’re walking around … not just downtown but in problematic throughout the city.”
The associations are calling for the city to fund an additional six RCMP officers and two support staff and that these new members be assigned to uniformed patrols of the Downtown and Gateway areas. The associations estimate these extra positions would cost an estimated $1.8 million per year and are calling on the city to find money in the existing budget to fill.
“This can’t be a taxation story,” said Todd Corrigall, Chamber of Commerce CEO. “This has to be a story of how do we mitigate expenses for the benefit for our community … This is not a downtown issue or a Gateway issue. This is a community issue. When we talk about this we talk about it through the lens of community.”
Coun. Cori Ramsay said that as much as social issues are a community issue, it is also a national crisis. She also questioned Corrigall regarding his comment to move it from a taxation issue to a partnership issue.
“I really want to know what partnership looks like to you because partnership, to me, comes with a monetary value to it, as does taxation. It just seems like we’re just reframing the story, we’re not moving forward.”
Foley said the business community doesn’t have a “magic button” to push to increase revenue if costs go up i.e. increased taxes.
The business groups are also requesting that the city work with community stakeholders and the RCMP to develop an Integrated Public Safety and Enforcement Team with specific focus on creating “vibrant and safe spaces for all residents, business owners/operators and patrons.”
The groups are also requesting the city enforce bylaws requiring owners and operators of harm reduction locations to be accountable for the debris, waste and paraphernalia left in the area of their operations. In addition, they want the province to direct each health authority be required to mark paraphernalia used in harm reduction strategies with identifiable markings, ensuring all agencies are accountable for the recovery and disposal of the materials provided to users.
Mayor Lyn Hall said it’s important to recognize work that has already been done on these issues and assured the business groups that a special committee, struck Monday, won’t go on for years.
“It’s challenging for us as a city,” said Hall. “I talk to mayors almost every day in various communities around the country about what they’re doing and what best practices can be put place. When we talk about where we can go with the (new city) committee, there needs to be an understanding around the committee that there’s been a tremendous amount of work already done … by the City of Prince George, by Downtown Prince George, by Northern Health, by the Gateway, by BC Housing.”
Other items the three business groups are calling for include:
- Increased lighting downtown, particularly in alleyways and alcoves, walkways, and parkades.
- The city and Northern Health to work together to develop a sobering centre.
- The city work with BC Housing and the Government of British Columbia to develop housing and employment solutions for those at risk on our streets.
- That the province develop enhanced, street level mental health assistance for those at risk, creating a better understanding of the at risk community and what treatment assistance can be made available.
- That the Ministry and Children and Family Development be compelled to release unused, or under-utilized property at the Prince George Youth Custody Centre to BC Housing and the Health Ministry to create additional beds, short term sobering centres and long term addictions counselling and recovery services.
- That the Province of British Columbia allocate $3 to mental health, addictions and homelessness solutions for every $1 allocated to harm reduction strategies.
- That the Attorney General review and provide recommendations for modernizing the sentencing practice for prolific offenders.
- That the Attorney General look at alternative systems and sentencing structures, taking into account rural and remote populations. And that restorative justice is strongly considered, providing a layer of accountability in the recovery process.
The committee, which will have representatives from all three business groups, will hold its first meeting in January.