“Heart and Hammer.”
That’s the balancing act bylaw officers use when dealing with the city’s homeless according to Tina Siebert, Penticton’s bylaw supervisor.
And that was also the case on the weekend when about 30 people were camping for the past week on municipal greenspace in the 1100-block of Main Street. According to Siebert, it was likely a combination of bylaw attention and the dynamics of the those staying there that resulted in most of them vacating the property Sunday.
|City of Penticton bylaw officers watch the dismantling of tents at a Main Street city greenspace last week. Homeless campers vacated the site Sunday. (Mark Brett – Western News
Monday morning there were only a couple people at the site where days before more than a dozen tents were in place on any given night.
“I don’t know all the details but obviously there was something that happened and they all kind of split up,” said Siebert. “When you gather a number of people in such a concentrated space, it’s somewhat predictable that not all of them are going to get along, especially when you have mental health (issues) and drugs.
“We had been there all weekend long, just making sure they’re following our bylaws and when they don’t we corrected that and dealt with it quite firmly.”
She added the bylaws apply to everyone and anyone contravening them can result in them being moved from public property.
According to Canadian case law, municipalities cannot deny individuals in need of housing the right to use public property for sleeping overnight however any structures must be taken down in the morning which was enforced by bylaw officers.
Siebert pointed out this kind of work for her staff is a daily effort, it’s just in this case, being on Main Street, it was much more visible to the general public.
“It impacts them (public) more when they live near it or when their business is there or when they drive by it everyday,” she said. “We want to manage it as best that we can and we’re very persistent which helped, obviously.
“We’re not by any means solving a problem here because really they’ll (homeless) just be moved to other areas of the city. Obviously we don’t want it to be in one concentrated area but no matter where they go we will be fielding those calls.”
She, like many others, hopes the coming low-income housing will help alleviate some of the problems.
“But, like I say, housing is just another piece to a giant, multi-faceted issue,” said Siebert. “It’s a very challenging issue. It’s probably the issue of our time. It’s one that every community is facing across the country, it’s not anything specific to here.”
Many of the people who were staying at the Main Street property are very well known to bylaw officers and that, according to their supervisor, is where the “heart” aspect of their job clicks in.
“So really it’s about building rapport, these are people we’ve kind of tracked and followed throughout the city all summer and some of them for years,” she said. “We have an understanding of where they come from, why they’re in this situation, we’ve heard all of their stories.
Just last week through the Community Active Support Table (CAST) she helped a man get a pair of shoes. CAST is a community partnership with the RCMP and other service agencies.
“We hadn’t seem him before and he’d only been here a couple weeks and he didn’t know anybody and he wasn’t connected to any of the social service groups,” said Siebert. “We’re trying to get him connected so he’s got more support and wouldn’t resort to crime or violence.
“But when we see criminal activity we get the police involved, if they’re (homeless) hurting themselves or others, obviously we have to report these types of situations.”
Staff Sgt. Kirsten Marshall said Monday she was not aware of any serious, police-related calls to the area across from the detachment on the weekend.
“Our members were regularly making patrols through the area and speaking to persons who were there, but this was pro-active in nature only,” said Marshall.