Port Hardy council had quite the interesting debate at its April 25 meeting about continuing the “Safer Places Pilot Project” at Stink Creek Park.
Chief Administrative Officer Heather Nelson-Smith stated during the meeting there has been a request from mental health and addictions, the RCMP, and BCEHS to continue the safer places project in the absence of not having “a more permanent location going forward.”
Basically, the groups want council to extend the pilot project into at least the first part of the summer to allow for the heat dome situation, as well as the current outreach initiatives that are still happening in the park.
Nelson-Smith warned council they are going to have an increased number of people in the downtown area than they had last year because the number of people congregating is currently increasing, which means the need for outreach will be even higher than last year.
Both RCMP and BCEHS say they have been having an easier time responding to calls for assistance thanks to the pilot project.
“It doesn’t mean they are requesting it to be long term,” Nelson-Smith clarified, “it’s just to try and bridge the gap between finding a new location, because ultimately we are going to end up in the same situation.”
Coun. Fred Robertson said part of the discussion in the past was to have an alternate site for the safer places project, and he wondered if there has been “any thoughts of a different site, or two sites, or anything to that effect?”
Mayor Pat Corbett-Labatt said council hasn’t discussed the number of sites yet that were brought forward in a report by their Director of Corporate Services, Ross Blackwell.
“Stink Creek was still one of the sites in that report, but there were some other sites as well,” Corbett-Labatt said.
Nelson-Smith says the issue is that some of the other sites that were listed are on privately owned property. She noted one other location that was identified was the overflow parking lot that’s behind CIBC.
She said they currently have no funding, council has given its staff no direction to purchase or lease any land for those purposes, and there are no capital costs that would be required to bring the property up to a standard.
“That’s where it sits at this point in time,” she added.
Blackwell said whatever council may choose to decide regarding this issue, they should also “consider a fully-serviced site, whether it’s asked for or not.”
Blackwell said the site will need litter clean up, general maintenance, portable toilets, some sort of a water facility, lighting, and there could also be requests for the district to pay for private security in the downtown area.
“I would ask council to think broadly about the potential for costs this could attract, if it doesn’t, great, but it has the potential [for costs].”
Coun. Brian Texmo asked who exactly is going to hold council to task regarding liabilities.
“Who enforces that side of things?” he asked.
Blackwell said the best option would be for the district to lease it to another entity, as that would make the district’s liability quite limited.
Coun. Dennis Dugas said they aren’t leasing Stink Creek Park to Island Health, so if there’s an issue at the park then the district is indeed liable for whatever they choose to allow to happen on that property.
“We did it temporarily with the pilot [project] before, and I think it was very successful and I think it could be successful in the future, but we’ve got to take everything into consideration moving forward with regards to how much we really want to have in that particular location on our property when we’re responsible for it and how we’re manning it and how we’re maintaining it now.”
Dugas reiterated the district is responsible for the park and they need to really start thinking about it more seriously than they have in the past.
Coun. Janet Dorward said there’s many people who loiter in the downtown area, a lot of them have addiction issues, and the district hasn’t received any government funding to deal with it yet, “but until something is done, what can we as the council do about it?”
She added that nobody in town wants to see the project anywhere, “but you’re going to see it, and going through the places that have been mentioned as potentials and the various issues with them, again, I think it comes down to Stink Creek Park being the location. The professionals that deal with that part of our community every day are recommending that the safer places project continues, and I would be in favour of it continuing in the same way, no permanent structures.”
Robertson said he agrees completely with Dorward, noting, “Stink Creek is the least objectionable choice.”
He then stated he believes that the costs for projects like this have largely been placed on cities and towns by the provincial government, and it’s wrong for the government to not help with the funding that’s needed.
“They can’t just leave communities to try and do it on their own, because it’s just going to be too much of a struggle for us.”
Corbett-Labatt said she always knew there was a homeless problem in Port Hardy, but when she found out the homeless count from a comparison that was recently done between the district and cities across B.C. as well as other areas, “I was stunned and staggered and shocked.”
She added she knows Stink Creek Park is controversial, residents obviously don’t want people hanging out there, but the reality is people are going to continue hanging out there until council comes up with a better solution via a task force that’s being set up to address the downtown issues.
Texmo asked from a legal standpoint if it’s better to be in a leasing situation than to use district-owned property.
“The lease is the cleanest,” confirmed Blackwell, who added if the district is using its own property then they have to enforce reasonable caution to address legal issues that could potentially come up.
Texmo, who campaigned for his seat on council with promises of “enforcement” in the downtown area, said he doesn’t want to see the project being held anymore at Stink Creek Park, “but at the same time they’re going to go there anyways irregardless because it’s been deemed the hangout right now.”
He added he wants to get the project out of Stink Creek Park as soon as possible and come up with a better solution that includes a leasing agreement of some sort with a potential shelter option available.
Nelson-Smith said the reality is that Stink Creek Park is a park and people will always congregate in parks.
“Unless we start going in and pulling them out and moving them to another location, that’s always going to be where they congregate.”
Dorward stated again that she wants the provincial government to help with funding because it shouldn’t have to be paid for by the taxpayers of Port Hardy, and then made a motion to continue the project at Stink Creek Park until the end of August.
Robertson seconded the motion, adding that he wants the site and process to be reviewed at the end of August.
Blackwell said the location of the project will be reassessed at the end of August if there’s a desire to reassess it.
Council unanimously approved the motion to continue the safer places pilot project at Stink Creek Park until the end of August.