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Campbell River approves nearly half a million a year for downtown safety

And this is only the beginning, one councillor says

Campbell River City Council’s ongoing focus on downtown safety got a big boost at its Oct. 12 council meeting.

Councillors committed $471,000 per year for three years to improve downtown safety and that’s only the beginning, Coun. Susan Sinnott said.

“Well, I think it’s worth saying that this is one of the first important steps that this council will now be taking publicly that’s been behind the scenes,” Sinnott said after making the motion to approve the funding. “And for people who’ve thought we weren’t doing anything, this is the first of several steps that will be coming forward. And I hope it shows that this council is committed to one of our primary objectives to improve downtown safety.”

The current city council has drawn a great deal of attention provincially and even nationally for it’s efforts to “clean” downtown of its problem of homelessness and unruly behaviour. Earlier in the year, council passed a bylaw to make public drug consumption in certain areas in the city illegal and subject to a fine, contrary to provincial initiatives to decriminalize drug consumption, and then earlier this month, it “punished” the Campbell River Art Gallery and the city’s overdose prevention site for not doing enough to discourage camping and loitering around their location and for not cooperating with city efforts to do so.

A report to council’s Oct. 12 meeting recommended spending $471,000 per year for three years.

The funds will be used to help address concerns with community safety and include:

- $110,000 for labour and materials to support an expansion of public works clean-up efforts;

- $216,000 for labour to support expanded hours at the Downtown Safety Office;

- $145,000 for contracted services to support expanded downtown security patrol.

In recommending the expenditure, the report prepared by city staff, says that, “A common reason to use drugs in public is not being able to access overdose prevention and harm reduction services, which is why the city supports directing individuals to the overdose prevention site as the preferred location to use controlled substances. However, even with the operation of an overdose prevention site, there is continued public consumption of controlled substances throughout the community – particularly public spaces and parks – and an increase in the associated discarded waste materials such as needles.”

Citizens and visitors don’t feel safe in areas where public consumption is occurring, the report says. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence from service providers indicate people sleeping unsheltered also feel unsafe in the community. In addition, calls for service to first responders have increased, “causing a disproportionate amount of time and resources to be allocated to public consumption-related incidents. This leaves first responders less able to respond in a time-sensitive manner to other community concerns.”

In an effort to respond to these concerns, the city has already re-allocated resources in the public works department to support clean-up, particularly downtown, and the city has re-directed and increased funding to expand the work of bylaw enforcement staff and contract security to respond to these calls for service and proactively engage in community safety foot patrols. These patrols also provide a resource for individuals using substances and experiencing homelessness because many times they are the first on the scene for necessary medical interventions, the report says.

The report says more resources are needed, however, which is why a request for senior government funding was presented to the province at the 2023 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

“Although we are still hopeful that provincial resources will be provided, council has the opportunity to consider funding these increased resources to be responsive to the concerns from the community and increase the safety and wellbeing of all community members without a significant impact to local taxpayers and private property owners who are currently taking on this burden themselves,” the report says.

The motion to approve the funding was passed with no one opposed.

@AlstrT |
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