A homeless advocacy group is conducting another homeless count, as some say a housing crisis has pushed more and more to the streets or into shaky housing situations. Western News file photo

Social change takes time

City manager wants to brighten downtown

The situation isn’t hopeless, but dealing with homelessness, drug addiction and other interrelated social issues is not something that can happen quickly.

“We have hot spots around the community, and we are at a loss to address them all,” said Peter Weeber, Penticton’s chief administrative officer, during a discussion of a problem property at 377 Winnipeg St. with city council Tuesday.

Related: Action taken on nuisance property

Weeber said there are a couple of areas that are on the city’s radar right now, including Okanagan Park, around the public bathroom.

“A camp pops up there all summer long and there’s a lot of behaviours happening there that just aren’t acceptable,” said Weeber. “The city has spent some time with the DPA and the RCMP and their issue is the downtown area is pretty actively occupied by folks that are just hanging out and maybe having a beer or smoking a joint, laying around or sometimes passed out.

“The businesses don’t like it, but they don’t want to directly engage with these people and they shouldn’t have to.”

Related: More needles found in downtown Penticton

People want to see immediate change, but there are a number of factors that slow down change, including the process that has to be followed, said Weeber.

“We’re in the process; it’s a long process, it costs money and takes time. It’s contentious. And if somebody demonstrates improvement in any one of those processes then the process stops. And when the problem emerges again, it starts again,” said Weeber, adding that there can also be opposition, as in the case of panhandler Paul Braun.

“I can’t get a person to stop sitting in the breezeway. So how the heck am I going to deal with 377 Winnipeg?” asked Weeber. “I’m not sure if I can do what people are wanting us to do as a city quickly. In some cases, I don’t even know what to do.

“The expectation is that bylaw and the RCMP deal (with the problems), and then the RCMP tell me that ‘well, I can’t solve a problem with a gun and a bulletproof vest.’ Social service agencies and all government organizations are trying to support these folks, but they can’t get the support they need because safe injection sites and all that other stuff is too contentious.”

Related: Five years, 34 panhandling tickets, three people in Penticton

Weeber said the Community Support and Enforcement Team assembled by RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager should bring progress on the issues.

“We have a number of projects that we’re working on jointly with them now, like downtown foot patrols,” said Tina Siebert, Penticton’s bylaw supervisor, adding there are several other projects in the works, along with a lot more information sharing and collaboration.

Weeber worries the problems are increasing.

“I think it is going to come to a head in some way. I think a lot of residents have had enough about certain types of things,” said Weeber. “I guess the positive underlying answer is we need more people in the downtown area. We need more activity.

“People don’t occupy areas where there are lots of people. It’s uncomfortable, you are not going to be having a beer and smoking a joint if you’re sitting there with a bunch of seniors and young families.”

Weeber said he has met with the Downtown Penticton Association and proposed brightening up the dark corners.

“We have a power utility, so I want to get those dark alleys lit up at night. I want to wrap the trees downtown. I want to put LED lights on all those trees and just brighten the whole area up,” said Weeber.

“Typically, people won’t do things in bright light. That’s a basic security principle.”

Weeber said the province is funding more support services and facilities.

“They’ll be online by this fall, and that’s going to be substantial. If those numbers are in line with our homelessness counts, we will have almost enough housing to satisfy those numbers,” said Weeber. “The province has never been more supportive in getting people help and housing than they have today. They are doing fully-funded mental health addictions and living funding models. We haven’t seen that before, so I think we will make some progress.”

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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