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Split vote passes Safe Streets bylaw

Tent city for the homeless at the foot of Fifth Avenue in Prince George. File photo

Even though community organizations and almost half of council are against it, the city is moving ahead with its Safe Streets bylaw.

Passed by a 5-3 vote Monday, is bylaw aims to give the city tools to deal with homeless encampments. According to a city release, the bylaw “is a means to address overtly anti-social behaviour in public, including aggressive panhandling, littering, sidewalk obstruction, graffiti, open drug use, needle disposal, as well as the creation of structures, temporary shelters, and campfires.”

It allows bylaw officers to issue $100 tickets with a $75 penalty for late payment for the various behaviours. Previously, the city did not have any specific city bylaws to help Bylaw Services staff to manage these issues.

Mayor Lyn Hall along with councillors Terri McConnachie, Kyle Sampson, Susan Scott, Brian Skakun voted in favour while councillors Cori Ramsay, Murry Krause and Frank Everitt voted against.

Prior to the vote, council heard from two local groups opposed to the bylaw – the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN), citizen-led homeless advocacy group Together We Stand, and the Millar Addition Connaught Concerned Citizens Committee.

BC Assembly of First Nations Chief Terry Teegee told council that about 80 per cent of the city’s homeless population are Indigenous.

“The issue of having a bylaw that is very punitive and in essence punishes the poor for being poor is really not the way to go,” he said.

“We believe this is an overly simplistic approach to a very complex problem,” said Angela Merrick of Together We Stand. “We think the safe streets bylaw is like if there’s a forest fire and we went out with water guns.”

Alissa Nyheim-Rivet and Tammy Hull of the Millar Addition Connaught Concerned Citizens Committee told council that residents in community have seen an increase in crime since the tent city sprang up at the foot of Fifth Avenue.

Last week a woman was shot in the encampment.

According to the city, calls for service related to social issues at the City of Prince George has seen a marked increase:

Year                             Needles                       Other: i.e. tents, open drug-use, human waste, etc.

2017                            6                                  149

2018                            158                              911

2019                            294                              802

2020                            497                              1796

2021 To Aug. 26*       305*                            1184*

The Safe Streets Bylaw passed first three readings at the June 14 Council meeting, and was due for final reading at the June 28, but Council opted to delay final reading to provide more time for additional public consultation.

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