City sees success in months following 'zero tolerance' campaign - InfoNews

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City sees success in months following 'zero tolerance' campaign

FILE PHOTO- Penticton bylaw officers' role has been changing as the city prioritizes community safety in the wake of the opiod crisis.
June 04, 2019 - 5:00 PM

PENTICTON - It’s been nearly a year since the City of Penticton adopted a zero-tolerance approach to unacceptable behaviour in public spaces and there have been some signs of success.

City staffers Anthony Haddad and Tina Siebert say homeless people are finding shelter and downtown public areas have become "activated," which makes them less desirable for those interested in anti-social or illegal activity.

“Our key message is illegal activity and some of the undesirable activity that is happening downtown is not acceptable, and we’re not going to stand back and let it happen. At the same time, we’re going to focus on compassion issues like social housing, with partnerships and bylaw efforts working to support those in need,” Haddad, City development services manager, says.

Council has supported several controversial housing projects since the first supportive housing project got underway with the conversion of the Hansel and Gretel Motel in 2009. Since 2014, around 12 per cent of all new housing projects in the city have been supportive housing. Haddad says there has been an ongoing emphasis on supportive housing for several years now.

Bylaw services supervisor Siebert says housing has been probably the most important issue in terms of the city’s homeless. She says once out on the street, homeless people no longer have a sense of community.

That’s why the Community Active Support Table was formed in late August 2018. It connects street people who didn’t have connections with local social resources.

Siebert says the group has been instrumental in improving the fortunes of 50 people so far, providing housing or some other form of assistance.

She says the group plan an intervention for someone in need and meet at the location where they would most likely expect to find the individual.

“Some people with mental health conditions are very entrenched, they lose sight (of the fact) there are other people in the community who want to help them. When a group like CAST gather around them at the same time, it shows people care,” Siebert says.

“When we go out and do that intervention, they go ‘wow, all these people are out here for me',” she says.

It’s difficult to say whether CAST’s success has actually reduced numbers of Penticton homeless population, however, as a recent homeless count isn’t available. Also, with the advent of summer weather, the homeless population has been on the rise.

Haddad says the "See Something, Say Something" campaign has been a constant reminder to the community to report issues of concern. Haddad says the campaign has helped city officials gain a better understanding of where and what the issues are.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in calls, especially after hours. Some are legitimate, some are not,” says Siebert, adding evenings have gotten especially busy, between 5 and 11 p.m. She says complaints are spread throughout the city, not just coming from downtown.

The campaign is ramping up for the summer season.

The city has also increased its bylaw officer presence in the community, bumping up the budget, adding two more officers and additional hours to the service.

Haddad says in his two decades in municipal government, the bylaw function has evolved from what used to be a largely parking enforcement and revenue collecting agency to one of community safety.

These days, bylaw officers are on the job from 7 a.m. to 10:30 or 11 p.m., working special events in the city as well.

“There’s been a huge swing in their role. Our investment in the bylaw department is evidence of that,” Haddad says.

Siebert says the bylaw officer’s role has always been based on the needs of the community.

“The role has definitely evolved and changed. That’s a good thing. We want to make sure we have solutions to city problems,” she says.

In the past ten months, the city has also invested in security lighting downtown, improving sight lines in public spaces to make them less desirable to nuisance activities and looking at design changes to make public spaces more positive.  A campaign to have downtown property owners gate alcove spaces in back alleys hasn’t been as successful as the city might have hoped.

Nanaimo Square on a quiet Monday afternoon in Penticton. The city has been working to 'activate' public spaces like Nanaimo Square in an effort to make them more attractive to the general public and less attractive to those indulging in anti-social or illegal behaviour.
Nanaimo Square on a quiet Monday afternoon in Penticton. The city has been working to 'activate' public spaces like Nanaimo Square in an effort to make them more attractive to the general public and less attractive to those indulging in anti-social or illegal behaviour.

Siebert says that kind of investment can be costly to landlords, who have to consider such things as fire bylaws. She says the city continues to receive angry calls from the public over misuse in those areas, as there are still a lot of open alcoves in the city’s downtown back alleys.

Back alley alcoves can be a congregating spot for illicit and anti-social behaviour in downtonwn Penticton, but security measures are costly and many building alcoves remain open to use.
Back alley alcoves can be a congregating spot for illicit and anti-social behaviour in downtonwn Penticton, but security measures are costly and many building alcoves remain open to use.

In early July 2018, then Chief Administrative Officer Peter Weeber announced the policy after city washrooms incurred more than $3,000 in damage in late June.

 


 

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