Most of Campbell River's homeless started as youth. File photo

CPTED treats homelessness symptoms, not the cause

Who decides who is ‘legitimate’?

On December 12, the City of Campbell River will be holding an info session on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), a program to re-design public space with the goal of lowering crime.

The thing is, CPTED (pronounced “sep-ted”) works by fixing the symptoms of the problem, not the causes.

CPTED should be explained. Basically, it is a range of activities and changes to a build environment that work to reduce the amount of crime or nuisance behaviour that takes place there. It can be anything from adding lights to an area to opening sight lines to, in some cases, building physical features that direct the use of a space.

Basically it’s looking at a place and adapting it to make crime less likely to happen.

However, the premise behind CPTED is that there are people who are allowed to be in a certain space and others who are not allowed. The presenter hired by the city even outlines this in his description of the program, writing “the avoidance of space by legitimate users sends an environmental cue (message) that offenders pick up on and soon ownership slips from legitimate use to nuisance behaviour, graffiti and vandalism, creating opportunity for criminal activity.”

So I am all for making downtown a better place, but to do so at the expense of the most vulnerable people in the community is not solving the problem of homelessness. Homelessness is difficult. I have never been in that situation, however I can empathize with those who have.

Having no option but to spend the night outside in the biting wind, snow and rain, then having to deal with the risk of losing all of your belongings all while facing stigma from others in the community would be far more than I could bare. Add in pre-existing mental health issues or substance use and I can only imagine how difficult it must be.

Who gets to decide that they’re not “legitimate users”? Who gets to decide which members of our community are allowed to be in a space, and which ones are to be kicked out?

This upcoming CPTED program is just more of the same idea, shuttling people who are deemed illegitimate away from downtown with no regard for where they end up. While doing that by moving social services out of downtown didn’t work, the City seems to have gone with a more passive approach.

Don’t get me wrong, I am for making public spaces more hospitable to people. We’ve gone way to far in the other direction, in my opinion, and could use some revitalization. My ideas on how to do this (less parking, more walking and cycling and more greenspace) are for another iteration of this column. However, they should include everybody, not just a chosen few who are lucky enough to be called “legitimate.”

CPTED would be really good if we were trying to treat the symptoms of homelessness: namely make it more pretty downtown for tourists. If we were really trying to do something about the causes of homelessness, we should do more than just treat those affected poorly and hope they move on.

Maybe instead of making life even harder for people experiencing homelessness in Campbell River we should try to be compassionate and help those who really need it most.

RELATED: Funding available for downtown Campbell River building safety changes

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