The City of Campbell River has spent more than $2.4 million on homelessness and cleaning up the downtown core but has little to show for it, Mayor Andy Adams said.
“Clearly something’s not working,” Adams said at an Aug. 13 special Committee of the Whole meeting called to look into the “escalating issues that are occurring throughout our downtown.”
The issues involved are instances of “unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour” that must be addressed and cannot continue, Adams said in his opening address to the council meeting held through Zoom and which lasted 4.5 hours.
“Council has invested significantly in attempts to address the ongoing issues downtown, however, this does not seem to be working,” the mayor said.
The Aug. 13 meeting involved members of city council and staff, RCMP Insp. Geoff Preston and 12 delegations from businesses and organizations impacted by the downtown situation. The city called the meeting to seek short term answers.
“As people with direct and ongoing experience with what’s happening, we appreciate you have important input that will help identify opportunities for improvement,” Adams said.
The city recognizes that the issues are complicated and have been compounded by COVID-19.
“Again, I want to emphasize that council shares your desire to maintain the heart of our community as a welcoming, attractive location for everyone,” Adams said. “Our goals for this meeting are to identify any opportunities and goals for future action.”
The meeting was supported by a staff report from the city manager containing background information and providing a history of all the actions the city has taken in terms of policy development for the downtown, improvements to the downtown, in terms of services, and supportive and affordable housing across the community.
The report was written and the meeting was set in response to increased reports and concerns related to undesirable and inappropriate activities and behaviours in the downtown and surrounding areas.
“Despite our best efforts, I just don’t see the two-and-a-half million (dollars) that we’ve invested addressing the problems,” Adams said.
The $2,406,524 million referred to includes (but is not limited to) $179,000 for an additional RCMP member for downtown; $119,550 for an increase in downtown security; $71,602 for downtown security patrols; $549,325 for a Downtown Security Office; $293,993 for homelessness initiatives; $191,395 contributed to BC Housing’s Rose Harbour bridge housing project; and $320,000 for transit expansion. For the complete list, see campbellriver.ca.
Each of the 12 delegations was given five minutes to make a presentation to council and were then subjected to questions from individual councillors. The range of issues they touched on is wide and so were the groups speaking. Presentations were made by BC Housing, Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness, Vancouver Island Mental Health Society, Grassroots Kind Hearts Society, CBI Health Centre, Campbell River and District Chamber of Commerce, Heart of the City Business Improvement Area Society, Campbellton Neighbourhood Association, Tyee Apartments management, Econo Ezy Box Storage ownership, Berwick by the Sea Retirement Community, and Crown Pacific Development Corporation.
Tyee Apartments manager Patti Webster provided some insight into the nature of the problem. The Tyee Apartments are located downtown on the northern edge of the Tyee Plaza and adjacent to the Berwick By the Sea retirement complex.
The biggest problem the apartment building and its tenants have is the BC Hydro box on Shopper’s Row that attracts people and gives them a place to hang around. The box and its foundation provide seating as does the grass surrounding it.
Webster said the people she has a concern with live in the Harbourside Inn across the street from the Tyee Apartments and she sees them line up to get into the liquor store in the building and then bring their purchases to the hydro box where they consume their alcohol.
“They go and they sit down and they have their morning beer,” Webster said.
Her tenants include working people, professionals and seniors who get up in the morning and are exposed to the congregation outside their building.
“I have had people move out because of it,” Webster said. “Because they have been threatened, they walk through needles, they don’t feel they’re safe. My seniors don’t feel safe any more. They can’t go for rides in their scooters. It’s just escalating.”
They’re not on the apartment property until they go to relieve themselves “around the corner,” Webster said.
“That’s what I’m seeing every day, all day,” she said.
So, that’s her biggest concern, she said, the people that accumulate around the hydro box and nearby trees that sleep, eat and do whatever.
She also gets feedback from people interested in her building saying they would love to live downtown but the thought process is that it’s the downtown core, it’s never going to get any better, Webster said.
It was suggested that the landscaping around the box could be changed to discourage people from hanging out there but a lot of the discussion focussed on whether changes in place just encourage people to move elsewhere and don’t solve the problem.
Housing is a big component of the issue and receives a big share of the focus and the funds. The most recent developments on that front have seen BC Housing purchase the former Rose Bowl Restaurant for bridge housing until more permanent supportive housing can be obtained. In addition, the announcement of a supportive housing building to be built at 580 Dogwood St. is another recent development on the housing front.
Kristi Schwanicke addressed the meeting on behalf of the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness. She opened by asking people to consider the safety of not only the public and businesses downtown but also the safety of the homeless as well.
In response to a question from Coun. Charlie Cornfield about how does the city ensure the safety of the public from the unacceptable behaviours in the short term, Schwanicke pointed out that the city and province are already doing what can be done to alleviate the situation and that involves providing supportive housing.
“I am not sure there is a short-term solution,” Schwanicke said. “I think investing in the long term is how we can see impacts in six months from now, a year from now, two years from now.”
In reply to a repeat of the question from Cornfield, how do we make downtown safer for everyone, Schwanicke said, “I think you already have.”
The city, in its partnerships with BC Housing and housing providers, has taken steps to rectify the situation.
“The impacts of housing in our community will alleviate the concerns of what’s happening downtown,” she said.
People having a home or places to go might be the route that addresses unsightly behaviour on the street, Schwanicke said.
“My hope is that we will really see impacts of these housing provisions that are up and coming really take shape for the downtown core,” she said
The 4.5 -hour meeting covered a lot of ground and the Campbell River Mirror will revisit the meeting and issues raised at the meeting in upcoming issues of the Mirror and on our website.
A recording of the meeting is available at campbellriver.ca. Search 2020 Council meeting Archives