Prince George city council gave their initial support to a plan to designate an encampment on Lower Patricia Boulevard, called Moccasin Flats by residents, as the only public land in the city where overnight camping is allowed.
Final approval of the bylaw change will come back to a future meeting of city council, along with a report on options to increase RCMP patrols in the area and potentially hire private security to patrol the site.
If the bylaw receives final approval, it would functionally allow the site to prohibit camping in other locations around the city, including the encampment in Millennium Park at First Avenue and George Street, city director of public safety Adam Davey said.
“This will very much be a wack-a-mole situation, and bylaws are complaint driven,” Davey said. “Cleaning up Millenium Park will be a massive undertaking.”
The Moccasin Flats site is protected by a court order, and must be allowed to remain until there is sufficient housing for every inhabitant, Davey said, a situation he considered unlikely.
The city intends to take a “passive management” approach to the camp, he said, and not provide services such as washrooms or attempt to manage where shelters are built within the site.
“Based on the experience of other cities… If we start moving towards active management, we are likely going to be taking on an unmanageable problem,” Davey said. “There probably will be lots of unintended consequences of a centralized model.”
Prince George RCMP Supt. Shaun Wright said the RCMP have allocated some of the resources dedicated to downtown patrols to include the Millar Addition area as well.
“We spend a lot of time in that area, and can continue to do so,” Wright said. “We do have capacity to provide adequate policing to that area.”
‘IT’S JUST NOT WORKING’
On July 11, 2022, the previous city council rejected a similar proposal. However, many councillors who voted against the centralized model last year spoke in favour of it this year.
“I supported decentralization. I thought it would have a lower impact, but it didn’t,” Coun. Kyle Sampson said. “I don’t like the location. It has a great impact on a residential neighbourhood, it has a great impact on a light industrial neighbourhood.”
The Lower Patricia encampment is also a bad location for the residents of the encampment, and is a long walk from services at places like the Prince George Native Friendship Centre and St. Vincent du Paul, he added.
“We know with the encampment there, it is going to stay there,” Coun. Brian Skakun said. “One way or another, it’s going to be there for a couple of years. I don’t know if BC Housing is ever going to be able to provide enough housing.”
Coun. Ron Polillo said it is a difficult decision to make, but that’s what city council was elected to do.
“This is the first step in a broader strategy,” Polillo said. “I guess time will tell if this was the right decision.”
Coun. Susan Scott said she still holds out hope for a better solution, but “until we take this step, we can’t get to the next step.”
Coun. Cori Ramsay said as a Millar Addition resident herself, she knows the fear and concerns this will bring for area residents.
“I had my mountain bike stolen just living in my neighbouhood. My heart goes out to the residents of the Millar Addition. This proximity to the encampment takes a toll on them,” Ramsay said. “There is no perfect solution…. (But) I can’t, in good conscious, continue the status quo. It’s just not working.”
‘THESE ARE CITIZENS OF PRINCE GEORGE AS WELL’
It’s important to remember that for the residents of Millenium Park and other encampments throughout the city, this will mean their homes and belongings are going to end up getting moved to a place they may not want to be, Coun. Tim Bennett said.
“I think it’s important that the work in done… in a respectful way,” he said.
Hopefully the move will allow local non-profit groups to delivery services to the city’s unhoused population in a more efficient and effective way, he added.
“What a terrible location. It’s not a safe place to be living,” Coun. Garth Frizzell said. “It’s not the best solution, but it’s the solution in front of us.”
Mayor Simon Yu said he is determined to ensure the situation is a temporary one, for all the residents of Prince George. He vowed to speak to neighbouring Millar Addition residents personally, as well as visit the encampment site to speak with residents.
“These are citizens of Prince George as well,” Yu said. “These are our brothers and sisters. This is a temporary measure.”