City council has moved on efforts to improve downtown safety and cleanliness by approving funding for overnight security patrols and future clean-up initatives.
On Sept. 7, city council approved up to $100,000 for night-time security services to monitor public spaces in and around the city’s downtown central business district. These services will be provided seven days a week, for eight hours each night. Also up to $78,000 was approved for efforts to improve cleanliness, plans for which are still under development, but may be conducted in partnership with other volunteer organizations.
The patrol funding will match that spent by businesses, organizations and property owners for overnight security services provided through the Downtown Campbell River Business Improvement Area (BIA). The exact nature of how these services will be contracted was moved into in-camera discussions, however.
During the meeting, Coun. Kermit Dahl commended Downtown BIA for establishing the overnight patrols this summer.
“Rather than sitting on their hands and doing nothing but complain about the situation that they found themselves in, they chose to focus on what they could do, and they’ve made a change and improvement for our downtown, at least a few days a week,” he said.
The new city-funded patrols will extend beyond the Downtown BIA area to the ‘greater downtown area’, which includes commercial areas west of Dogwood Street and to Pier Street south through to the Maritime Heritage Centre.
At first the patrols were to be funded through the city’s gaming reserve, funds derived from the city hosting casinos, but now it appears they will be paid for with the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Fund, following a suggestion by Coun. Charlie Cornfield.
“I’m certain we could make a case that because of the pandemic, we’re doing enhanced cleaning,” said Cornfield. “We’re also doing enhanced security patrols and everything else as a result of the increases that we’ve had in the number of homeless and drug and alcohol addiction.”
Cornfield said the patrols should be funded through reserves once, then referred to future budget planning if they are to be offered in perpetuity.
Dahl said one issue with the plan was this lack of a defined end point.
“The problem that I have with this plan that we have, and the problem I had with the Downtown Safety Office, is there is no end plan,” he said. “The plan is to play forever and ever and ever.”
A more comprehensive, long-term plan is needed to address the core issue of downtown homelessness, said Dahl.
“You can’t put people down there to start cleaning up the mess, and think something’s going to change — because the people making the mess will continue to make the mess,” he said.
Coun. Claire Moglove acknowledged that while these efforts are ‘band-aid’ solutions, they are necessary.
“The fact of the matter is we have been spending over a year on this issue already and coming up with a comprehensive plan is extremely, extremely difficult,” said Moglove. “If council were to continue to delay, the problem will only get worse.”
Coun. Ron Kerr said while the discussion centred around overnight services, the city may have to focus on daytime patrols as well, and start developing ‘big picture’ solutions.
“It’s a 24-7 issue here that we’re dealing with,” he said. “We’ve got to start realizing that this is already overflowing and spilling into the Nunns Creek area, which is becoming a no-go area — it’s scary down there.”