City council’s approach to dealing with people living on the streets in downtown Campbell River is going back to the drawing board.
Councillors decided to bring a two-year process of developing a social services bylaw to a halt on July 11, rescinding it on the verge of giving it third reading. Zoning Amendment bylaw No. 3861 looked to refine the definitions of certain social services and the locations where they would be permitted. Councillors scrapped the bylaw and are now looking to develop a new strategy and plan to address the situation around people experiencing homelessness downtown that will include community engagement.
The bylaw was delivered a death blow after a public hearing was held July 6.
“It was quite obvious at the public hearing what people felt about the zoning,” Coun. Charlie Cornfield said at the July 11 city council meeting. “I think we got an awful lot of really good feedback…So, I think we need to have a lot further discussion on dealing with this issue.
“I wanted to say that there’s no more caring community than Campbell River. And if someone is in need, the community gets together and helps out and this is true for every situation that’s there. The situation that we’re dealing with requires compassion and it requires understanding but it requires action too.”
Cornfield put forward the motion to rescind the bylaw and was ready with a subsequent motion for moving forward.
“What we’ve got is not working,” Cornfield said. “It needs to change. We have to come up with a different strategy.”
Coun. Claire Moglove said it was important that councillors heard directly from people involved in this complex issue at the public hearing.
“As the public consultation went through over the last number of months, it became quite clear that the community was very divided on (the) issue,” Moglove said. “(It) was very, very difficult to come to a consensus as to where to go.”
Moglove said from the public hearing, she discerned three themes. The first was that the businesses most affected by this issue were not notified of the hearing properly. In particular, the mapping in the bylaw that the city put forward had the biggest effect on the Ironwood area but those businesses were not notified properly, she said.
The second theme that Moglove identified was the fact that the bylaw moved “the problem” from one area to another.
“It was just completely not fair to move the problem to a different area and that resonated with me,” she said.
But she said, it’s important to note that this bylaw and its provisions did not just come out of the blue.
“The whole origin of this came from when we had the downtown safety committee debating whether there should be a dispersal of these services or concentration of these services. And the recommendation that they came to council with was that we go forward with a zoning bylaw to prescribe location and spacing of social services in the downtown area,” Moglove said.
City staff made recommendations with a map and then council took those recommendations and condensed the proposed social services area to the Ironwood area, Moglove said.
The third theme was that none of these prescriptions were going to resolve the issue at hand which is “the issue of mental health (and) addictions,” Moglove said.
“And that is an issue that we are continuing to grapple with,” she said.
But the city is limited in what it can do, Moglove said. It can fund security through RCMP, bylaw enforcement and private security and it can fund cleanups.
“The city cannot build a mental health facility, the city cannot build an addiction recovery centre,” Moglove said. “We can lobby for it. We can provide land…But we can’t build it. We’re not going to be hiring social workers. We’re not hiring nurses. So it’s not something the city can do. We’re limited to money for security, money for cleanup, and the advocacy that we do, constantly. So I just want to put that on the record because this situation is…it’s getting worse, not getting better. And we are not finding very much in the way of solutions.”
Coun. Ron Kerr disagreed with Moglove on the origin of this bylaw saying this is the second time council has tackled this type of bylaw but he felt that zoning is an appropriate tool for municipalities to attempt to address this problem.
“It needs to be better crafted,” he said. “But we do need to work on a bylaw and not not throw it away, not walk away from it, but really, really discuss in a…in a holistic sense, where these types of facilities can be located. And we need to give direction to the government agencies that are actually coming along and popping them in wherever they want at the present time. So, but the only way that’s going to end is if we actually do define something.”
Other councillors at the table expressed agreement with the views already expressed. The discussion is available on the city’s website under “Agendas, Minutes, Schedule & Webcasts.” Look for “2022 council meeting archives.”
After the motion to rescind the bylaw was passed, Cornfield put forward a new motion.
“I would move that council and staff develop a new strategy and plan with community engagement to change the current way of resolving the unacceptable behavior issue,” Cornfield said. “You can tweak it any way you want. I think we just…what’s happened isn’t working. It’s getting worse. So we need to rethink how we go about it. And I think it needs council and staff to formulate that and then go out to engage with the community and First Nations and the province, but it’s having a focus on what it is we actually want to solve.”
Before calling for a vote on the motion to rescind the bylaw, Mayor Andy Adams said, “I’ll just say that I’ve shared this with council before. I am in communication with mayors around the province that are all experiencing the same issues. So I think it goes beyond just this council. I think it is all of local governments and regional districts putting pressure on the provincial and federal governments to come up with a solution but if this is a step, then we need to take it.”
The motion to rescind passed. Cornfield’s new motion will be dealt with at a later date.