Peter Weeber, Penticton’s chief administrative officer, paints a disturbing, even terrifying, picture of after-hours street life in the city’s downtown.
“The place changes after 10:30 p.m. The town comes alive with a whole different group. You see some really sad things,” said Weeber.
He’s been walking through the area at night to measure the effectiveness of extra lighting the city has installed.
He breaks it down into three groups: people needing homes, people with behaviour issues like drug abuse, and a smaller more extreme group intentionally causing problems.
“The ones that need a home, they are all sleeping in brightly lit areas because they are afraid of the most extreme,” said Weeber. “It’s like a jungle. There are people being victimized throughout this community at night.
“They are like wolves out there, looking for an opportunity to steal something, or lash out.”
The city has wrapped lamp posts in the 100 and 200-blocks of Main Street with LED lights to brighten the area at night, but there is also less visible work being done in alleyways.
“We took notes on every area that was covered in needles and beer cans. The next phase of the work, we’re going to start working directly with businesses that have open cubbies and areas that are being occupied at night.”
It’s all part of work that began in early June, with the City of Penticton, along with the RCMP, the Downtown Penticton Association and other groups coming together to deal with some of the street life issues in the downtown core.
“We promised that we would try to get this summer under control. We are slowly making progress in some areas, but it is so difficult,” said Weeber, adding that he thinks it is appropriate the city take a leadership position.
“Once it is up and running and built, they can use the same formula for next summer, when things get busy again,” said Weeber.
Many paths to helping, he said, end up with getting people into housing.
“That’s the solution. All this other stuff is managing behaviours and trying to protect the rights of businesses and the residents to enjoy the community,” said Weeber. “That’s the objective.
“It is something that will always have to be managed. It will never be solved.”
It’s also costing the city directly to deal with the damage done by the people Weeber groups in the extreme category. The city, he said, has bills for $10,000 worth of damage to public bathrooms over the last two months.
“That can’t continue,” he said. “We have a full-time security guard now patrolling Okanagan, Rotary, Gyro and Veterans Park. That’s all they do.”
Another cost is the ongoing court case against Paul Braun, who the city has ticketed repeatedly for panhandling in front of the 200-block breezeway, and is now challenging city hall in court.
The city has already spent over $26,000 trying to force Braun to comply with city bylaws.
“I didn’t realize they were that high,” said Weeber. “It is going to cost another $15,000 to go to court.”
Braun’s case is expected to come before a judge in September after he and his lawyer refused a settlement deal offered by the city in May.
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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