Council has voted in favour of granting first three readings to a bylaw amendment for the purposes of establishing and authorizing a single encampment at Lower Patricia Boulevard for unhoused residents. Before the amendments become effective, the bylaw amendment still requires council to vote in favour of final reading and adoption at a future council meeting
“This is a temporary measure that we will actively monitor to ensure the residents living in the Millar Addition will not be further impacted,” said Mayor Simon Yu, in a news release. “We are working with BC Housing, other government agencies, and non-government organizations to find a more permanent solution to address the current homeless, mental health, and addiction crises.”
Council unanimously approved recommendations proposed by administration to designate the Lower Patricia area as Prince George’s central site for individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Council passed an additional motion directing staff to bring a report back to a future meeting with options and costs for an increased police presence in the downtown area and the Millar Addition and for contracting private security and other safety measures. That report will be considered at the same meeting that council considers final reading and adoption of the bylaw amendments.
The consolidated encampment area has the added benefit of allowing social services to be delivered to a single location for those in need.
Similar centralized approaches are currently in place in municipalities such as Kamloops and Kelowna.
Lower Patricia was chosen due to its status as a court-ordered protected encampment area. The BC Supreme Court denied the city’s petitions to remove the encampment in 2021 and 2022 until such time that suitable housing and daytime facilities are established for all occupants. Subject to bylaw amendments being approved by council, the city intends to eventually remediate Millennium Park and return it to its original purpose.
The centralized encampment management approach consists of three related aspects:
- Establishing and maintaining partnerships with various bodies to ensure homeless individuals – including those with complex needs – can access (and have sustained access to) suitable housing.
- Continue supporting the provincial government’s jurisdictional responsibility to provide housing and other social supports to vulnerable groups and recognizing federal jurisdiction over matters relating to the Criminal Code and maintaining order.
- Regulation of municipal parks and public spaces to provide for the enjoyment of all.
The report is the first step towards a long-term strategy aimed at improving health and safety in downtown Prince George by mitigating impacts caused by homelessness. A formal strategy will be presented to council in the future for consideration.
Existing local service enhancements
Although Prince George does not have the authority to directly address housing issues, the city has implemented service enhancements to support the needs of homelss residents and address the impacts homelessness have on local businesses and residential property owners. These enhancements include:
- The establishment a Community Safety Hub that serves as a coordination site for bylaw, outreach, and allied services.
- Four additional bylaw officers, extended hours of service and regular foot patrols.
- Two outreach workers to assist vulnerable citizens to access needed services and supports.
- Enhanced RCMP foot patrols and four new RCMP officers recently approved in budget 2023.
- Service Agreement with Downtown Prince George (DPG) to facilitate proactive and responsive bio-hazard cleaning services.
- Daily litter patrol.
- Garbage bins emptied daily.
- Funding to support storage services in the Prince George Native Friendship Centre’s House of Friendship, which offers a full complement of washroom, shower, laundry, drop-in, and support services for the homeless.