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Calls to deal with needles, tents, drug use have escalated dramatically: City report

A homeless man at his camp spot at the foot of Third Avenue in Prince George. Bill Phillips photo

With city council set to decide on whether to authorize a civil injunction to allow for the removal of homeless camps in the city, a staff report clearly shows how the issue has escalated over the past few years.

According to the report, city bylaw services responded to six calls about needles and 149 other calls for items such as tents, drug use, human waste, etc. in 2017. In 2018 that number rose to 158 calls for needles and 911 calls for ‘other.’ In 2019, that increased to 218 calls for needles and ‘other’ calls  dipped to 802. in 2020, the numbers took a big jump to 497 calls for needles and 1,796 ‘other’ calls. To June 4 this year, there have been 219 calls for needles and 931 ‘other’ calls.

Council will decide on two bylaws tonight. The first is the creation of a safe streets bylaw which deals with such issues as aggressive panhandling, loitering, littering, laying on or obstructing sidewalks, graffiti, overt drug use, disposal of needles and drug paraphernalia, creation of structures and temporary shelters and open burning. 

The second is to amend the parks and open space bylaw which says: a. No person shall set up a tent or other temporary abode in an open space area, except in accordance with rules established under Section 16.1.; then establish rules as per 16.1(d) which states “establish rules for camping and other activities, including the designation of areas within which camping is allowed and limits on the duration of the activity.”

“The ongoing conflict of use of space and related social issues in the larger downtown area has prompted the development of enhanced bylaw options,” says Adam Davey, Director, Community Services and Public Safety in the report. “It is assessed that these two proposed bylaw recommendations, the implementation of a safe streets bylaw, in addition to amendments to the parks and open space bylaw, may provide the city better tools to assist in providing a safe, clean and inclusive community. To be clear, these are not solutions, however provide additional tools and clarification that may better address the ongoing matter.”

A group called ‘Stand With Us to Defend Prince George Citizens from Inhumane Bylaws’ is organizing a protest outside City Hall during the meeting tonight.

“On Monday, June 14 mayor and council will start the process to amend bylaws that further criminalize poverty and homelessness in PG,” reads the group’s Facebook post. “If these bylaw amendments are passed people could be fined for tents, for loitering, and for panhandling. We will gather outside and watch the council meeting by webcast and we will table our questions and concerns for council. We want to make sure the voices of ALL Prince George citizens are heard by their government officials.”

The meeting gets underway at 6 p.m.

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