City of Powell River councillors have received an update on homelessness in Powell River.
Social planner Meriko Kubota presented what she terms as preliminary data on homelessness at the city’s committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, October 15.
Kubota said she wanted to present information regarding homelessness within the city and specifically its connection to staff and services. She said it was a summary of resources currently being utilized to address homelessness-related incidents by city staff.
Kubota said she was going to start with the enforcement aspect of homelessness. There are three enforcement components of city services that address this topic. The first Kubota reviewed was bylaw enforcement. She said it comes into play regarding zoning, traffic and property maintenance.
There is also a fire and rescue component to deal with fires, and safety and health.
The third enforcement component is Powell River RCMP.
Kubota said there was a distinction between public and private property. All public property incidents are referred to the bylaws department and all private property incidents are referred to RCMP. The RCMP also touch on safety, said Kubota, as well as peace and justice.
In terms of bylaw enforcement, Kubota said it is interesting to note that dealing with calls, such as squatting and homeless incidents, was not a category the city could systematically itemize until recently.
The most recent data collection is from September 2018 to September 2019. Kubota said there has been a total of 46 calls related to homelessness within that time frame, with 40 of those calls in this calendar year.
“That makes up 11 per cent of all total calls to the bylaw team; that equates to about 215 hours a year of staff time,” said Kubota. “Why this is important and where this becomes significant is to highlight there has been an evolution and a trend. It’s to note there has been an increase in incidents and an increase of calls.”
Kubota said the bylaw enforcement team has been taking a humanized approach to addressing these circumstances. She said some of these incidents are becoming more challenging because there is an increased frustration in terms of what the solutions can be for individuals.
In terms of the fire and rescue department, there have been 12 bushfire incidents in the 2019 calendar year. Kubota said there has been one exceptional case where the department provided a homeless individual with a special fire permit.
Kubota said fire rescue has been humanizing the engagement and trying to find unique solutions for the circumstances.
With regard to the RCMP, police have had 15 calls in the last two years for private property incidents related to homelessness. Calls include disturbances, shelters, storing of belongings and possessions, trespassing, squatting and sleeping. There was one exceptional circumstance where one individual, between January and August 2018, was sleeping in ATMs, hallways, the library and Powell River Town Centre Hotel. This individual is now housed.
At Powell River Recreation Complex, there have been incidents such as sneaking into showers, staying in the showers for a long time, passing out in the showers, engaging in inappropriate behaviour in the showers, sleeping onsite and an increase in used syringes around the facility. One staff member was pricked by a needle, said Kubota, and 12 needles were discovered in one garbage canister, so staff have removed all exterior garbage bins. Sharps containers have been added inside the complex.
Mayor Dave Formosa took issue with the removal of the garbage containers.
“I don’t think that’s the answer,” said Formosa. “We need to reexamine putting our garbage bins out.”
Kubota said the city has a pass that is provided for people who cannot access the recreation complex because of income. She said when the new supportive housing units near the complex are occupied, those individuals will also have access to the complex.
Powell River Public Library also has experience with homelessness, according to Kubota. Incidents include people sleeping; when approached, responding with profanity; concern for a sleeping patron resulting in calling for emergency responders; bathing in the sinks in public washrooms; syringes found around the building and panhandling. Staff has implemented a no-sleeping policy at the library.
Kubota also indicated that in parks, there has been a noticed surge in drug paraphernalia left broken and discarded in public places.
She said various agencies have been trying to support homeless individuals with dignity, trying to maintain peacekeeping, to put the safety of everyone at the forefront.
Councillor George Doubt said homelessness itself is not a violation of a bylaw and not illegal.
“It’s not a moral condition, it’s a social condition,” said Doubt. “We need to focus on some of the symptoms of the homeless problem we have. I sense we have a lot larger number of people who are homeless in Powell River than there were even two or three years ago.”
He said he’d like to have more solid information on the number of people who are homeless in the community to get an idea of where to go.
Formosa said Kubota had made some comments around the supportive housing complex. He asked if the city would be giving residents recreation complex passes. Kubota said there is already an access pass for individuals who are low income and so it was a proactive effort between city staff and external agencies to highlight the 40 people who could potentially access the program. They will be invited to submit applications to the program, said Kubota.