iN VIDEO: A first hand look at Penticton's seamier side - InfoNews

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iN VIDEO: A first hand look at Penticton's seamier side

Penticton City bylaw officer Darren Calibaba posts a notice on a transient camp set up below a Penticton Creek bridge.
September 11, 2018 - 6:30 PM

PENTICTON - Following last week’s report to city councillors on the city’s efforts to reduce nuisance and unlawful behaviours by Chief Administrative Officer Peter Weeber, I was curious to see first hand some of these issues.

The stepped up efforts have cost the city more than $340,000 so far this year, without a lot to show for it, according to Weeber.

Last Friday, Sept. 7, I arranged a ride-along with City of Penticton bylaw officers Glenn Duffield and Darren Calibaba as they went about a routine patrol of city streets. They generally operate as two-man patrols, especially during evening shifts.

The arrival of September in the Okanagan means the tourist population in the Peach City has thinned out, and along with that, a corresponding drop in the city’s transient population.

“It’s not as busy as it was a month ago,” Calibaba tells me as we leave City Hall for a combined foot and vehicle patrol.

"With changing weather, people aren’t moving around as early in the morning, and calls are coming in later,” he says. 

We immediately head for the city’s downtown alleyways, paralleling Main and Martin Streets.

'RIGHT IN FRONT OF A DAY CARE CENTRE'

“We go where most people don’t think to go, back alleys downtown, looking for drug use and discarded needles,” Calibaba says.

He describes an incident earlier in the week when he and Duffield came upon a couple of individuals about to shoot up near the United Church.

“We stopped them. They were right in front of a day care centre,” he says.

“They’re going to do what they’re going to do; we do what we can to move them out of harm’s way,” Duffield adds.

Bylaw officers need a trained eye to spot discarded needles in a Penticton alleyway.
Bylaw officers need a trained eye to spot discarded needles in a Penticton alleyway.

The officers see two street people at the upper end of the downtown section of Main Street, in the alleyway just north of Eckhardt Avenue.

I’m advised to stay in the vehicle while they engage. They have gotten to know most of the people they deal with and have established a rapport with these two. I’m within earshot and can hear the friendly, concerned conversation as the officers ask the two how they’re doing. They come back to the vehicle within three or four minutes.

“The one guy had his bicycle wheel stolen recently. It’s important to let them know we care. It really helps when it comes to asking for compliance. A two minute conversation can go a long way,” says Calibaba.

We cross Main Street and work our way down the alley on the west side of the street. Duffield stops the vehicle in front of a back entrance alcove to a local business, where Calibaba jumps out to inspect the area, known to the two officers for frequent use by drug users.

“We’re looking for syringes. We’re looking for that kind of stuff coming through here, to at least try to mitigate how much is actually left around,” Duffield says. Then Calibaba signals he’s found some drug paraphernalia.

I get out of the vehicle and have a difficult time spotting the two used, uncapped syringes, one stuck in a depression in the pavement, the other jammed between a utility pole and a corner of the alcove.

These guys have a sharp eye for sharps.

'IT'S BEEN CRAZY UP THERE'

I ask them how many needles they pick up. Calibaba tells me they were directed not to bother keeping statistics on the number of needles found every day.

“There are so many, when it was busier this summer, maybe we averaged 25 needles a day. There weren’t that many yesterday,” Calibaba says. He recalls one recent clean up on Lakeshore Drive where 50 used needles were recently found in a crawlspace under the walkway that addicts were using to shoot up in.

“We’ve done clean ups on the Esplanade where even that number is dwarfed. It’s been crazy up there,” Duffield adds.

The officers pick up the discarded needles and Calibaba says they are frequently called to this alcove.

“They’re just livid about it, but we can only get here so many times. A gate across the alcove would do wonders, but few landlords have the money, or want to spend it on such things,” he says.

“We do this because clearly there are children who use these alleyways, and we don’t want them touching these needles. Now that they have that five cent needle buy-back program, there’s no telling what someone’s going to do with respect to picking that stuff up,” Duffield says.

City bylaw officers Darren Calibaba and Glenn Duffield patrolling a portion of the Penticton River path near Creekside Road.
City bylaw officers Darren Calibaba and Glenn Duffield patrolling a portion of the Penticton River path near Creekside Road.

Calibaba says things have improved, job-wise, since he began with the city three years ago.

“We have more officers now; we didn’t have the manpower to deal with it then. It’s a lot easier to get on these calls and deal with these things,” he says. In addition to the patrols, the officers have regular call to attend to, calls for service on unsightly properties, traffic calls and other bylaw enforcement responsibilities during their shift.

We continue working our way down the alley, heading north. The two officers reach out to everyone on the street - transients, office workers, tourists. They are friendly and engaging with everyone, and the response is respectful in return.

Since the stepped up patrols began earlier this summer, in conjunction with the city’s no tolerance policy towards anti-social behaviour, the two officers have seen transients shift their locations to outlying areas of the city, beyond downtown.

They’re fostering closer ties with the RCMP, performing joint foot patrols and taking some of the low-lying calls from the police so the RCMP can concentrate on more serious matters.

Duffield says numbers of the transient population tends to be fluid, shifting on any given day. He says it’s hard to say how many are active criminals.

“Some are out there committing crimes, others are simply doing what they need to survive,” he says.

'WE WANT TO GO HOME TO OUR FAMILIES EVERY NIGHT'

As we move on to the east side of the city, towards Penticton Creek, I ask: What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?

“Overdoses, where people literally 'popped up' back to life after a narcan injection. I’ve seen that a few times,” Calibaba says.

“Street fights, and people injecting right on Main Street. That kind of blew me away — 12 noon, out in the open. I never thought I’d see that,” Duffield adds.

"I’ve seen used syringes stuck in and smeared with human feces being used. That kind of stuff sticks in our minds, and we’re very aware of officer safety and biohazards. We want to go home to our families every night,” Calibaba says.

Penticton bylaw officer Glenn Duffield places a discarded needle in a sharps container while Darren Calibaba looks on in the background.
Penticton bylaw officer Glenn Duffield places a discarded needle in a sharps container while Darren Calibaba looks on in the background.

Both men say they’ve had death threats made against them.

We drive through a parking lot on the west side of Ellis Street, where the two officers know of a favourite hangout under a pedestrian bridge crossing Penticton Creek. No one is hanging out there this morning, but Duffield points out the city’s efforts to mitigate the nuisance use of the foot bridge by brushing nearby trees and improving sightlines. He says the city has plans to place bars under the bridge to prevent access.

We proceed east on Nanaimo Avenue, stopping a couple of blocks up after Duffield recognizes two men loitering on the Penticton Creek pathway. On the way, they find a man sleeping near a bush, just off the street, and check to make sure he’s conscious and okay.

A few minutes later, back in the vehicle, Duffield tells me one of the men has serious mental issues, and shouldn’t be on the street.

“Being out here isn’t helping him. He got in a fight recently and broke his hand. All we can do is make sure he’s okay. I’m pretty sure there’s an addiction there,” he says.

The two men continue up the streets paralleling Penticton Creek, stopping to check under each bridge for signs of habitation.

At one bridge, signs of occupancy are found, but no one is at the site. Calibaba writes up a notice, giving owners of the materials found there — bedding, food, etc. —  24 hours to remove them and posts the notice in a conspicuous place. They’ll return next shift and if the goods are still there, they will be seized.

“There’s even a television in there,” Calibaba says as he makes his way back up the river bank.

We head up Creekside Road to follow a trail along the river, where the two men come across a box full of food they had previously tagged.

Duffield hauls the box up the bank. It's full of cookies and tea. The stash is a potential health hazard as well as an attractant for wild animals.

A search of the area by Calibaba reveals someone’s debit card, issued by a Summerland trust company.

“It’s not likely the person who left it here owned it,” Calibaba says.

“This is such a beautiful spot, but there’s so much going on here. Residents had a community meeting last week, trying to figure out what they are going to do with the homeless situation here,” Duffield explains.

A homeless man sleeping just off Nanaimo Avenue near the Penticton Creek walking path.
A homeless man sleeping just off Nanaimo Avenue near the Penticton Creek walking path.

'IT JUST DOES NOT END'

I comment on the work involved in this operation, from the additional bylaw enforcement duties, to the extra officers. Bylaw officers alone make between $24 and $29 an hour. There’s also the private contractors called in to clean up the big messes the officers can’t handle, plus the disposal efforts and costs of removing the encampments, which can become pretty sophisticated.

“The camps are anywhere and everywhere. Taxpayers of this community want the city looking clean, and they don’t want that all over the place. People with mental issues don’t clean up after themselves, and leave a huge, huge mess. People are tired of it,” Duffield says.

“It blows my mind, these people end up with all this stuff, and they just leave it, they don’t care about it and someone else has to pick it up. The cycle never ends. We’re in the move-along, clean-up business, and it just does not end,” he adds.

As we approach the Esplanade, Calibaba describes a camp above the tennis courts where someone tapped into an outdoor receptacle and ran an electric cable several hundred feet, around the courts and up into their camp. The wire was barely covered in dirt and leaves.

“We were working in the summer during the total fire ban, and found an unattended fire in the Esplanade throwing flames 20 feet in the air. You can imagine owning a home up on Vancouver Avenue and seeing that,” Duffield says, adding hundreds of needles recently came out of a camp located a few feet from the parking lot of the Yacht Club.

“If you had been with us a month ago, there would have been activity like you would not believe. It was non-stop,” Duffield tells me as we make our way along the Esplanade’s network of paths.

The Esplanade has been home to some large, well-established camps, they say. The Esplanade and the Penticton Creek paths would be a paradise for kids — if it weren't for all this, they add.

“We were up here cleaning up a waste site with needles all around, people’s debit and credit cards discarded, and just a few feet away there were kids playing on the trails,” Calibaba says. Patrols must be performed regularly to keep the situation in check.

“If we stay on top of it, they don’t get entrenched, but if they are allowed to dig in, where there’s one — it’s terrible to say — but if you don’t do something, there will be two, then four, then 10 and 20,” Duffield says.

The officers finish the morning sweep with a tour of Okanagan Lake Park and art gallery and Japanese gardens properties. At the Okanagan Lake Park washrooms, they engage several homeless people congregating in front of the building. While Duffield speaks to them, Calibaba quietly inspects the washrooms for illicit activity.

Bylaw officer Glenn Duffield and Darren Calibaba seize a box of food left beside Penticton Creek. Nearby the officers also found a discarded debit card.
Bylaw officer Glenn Duffield and Darren Calibaba seize a box of food left beside Penticton Creek. Nearby the officers also found a discarded debit card.

'HARD, HARD LIFE'

On the way back to the vehicle, a couple stop them to thank them for their efforts, something that happened several times during the morning’s patrol.

“It’s got to be a hard, hard life,” Duffield says of the transients.

“They can never be anywhere they can just relax, but they are going to be what they are, and we are what we are. We can be friendly, we can be nice, but at the end of the day the job is going to get done,” he says.

“We’re just a small piece of the puzzle,” Calibaba says as we make our way back to City Hall. He feels Penticton’s new affordable housing, soon to come on market, will take many of the homeless off the street.

Duffield says he, too is looking forward to the additional housing, but adds he’s also aware of that element that doesn’t want to conform, no matter what.

“I think it’s a sad, sad thing, but it’s reality,” he says.

“I hope it all works out and I’m very much looking forward to some of them getting housing, but I think there’s always going to be a need for the patrolling and the need for us to be out there,” Duffield says.

Penticton bylaw officers discuss their work with the city's transient and homeless population.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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