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Prince George postpones decision on centralizing homeless campers

The city will look to conduct additional consultation with stakeholders and the provincial government, before bringing the issue back for reconsideration.
The east end of the Lower Patricia encampment, called Moccasin Flats by residents, is seen on Thursday, March 9.

City council voted Wednesday night to postpone making a decision on changes to the city’s Parks and Open Spaces Bylaw, which would designate the Lower Patricia encampment, named Moccasin Flats by residents, as the only public area in the city where overnight camping is allowed.

City council also postponed a decision on possible security enhancements to the area around Moccasin Flats, except to authorize the purchase and installation of concrete barriers along the road right-of-way through the encampment to allow first responder vehicles access to the site.

City manager Walter Babicz recommended postponing the decision on the Parks and Open Spaces Bylaw, to allow the city more time to consult with the community and find out more about the provincial Homes for People Action Plan announced last week. The $4-billion plan announced by Premier David Eby included measures intended to “end encampments.”

“The landscape has shifted since first and second reading (of the bylaw amendment) was presented to council,” Coun. Tim Bennett said.

In a meeting with provincial ministers just days after the Homes for People Action Plan was announced, Bennett said the province’s “end goal is that everyone in B.C. has a place to call home.”

Mayor Simon Yu said the Moccasin Flats site isn’t ready to accommodate homeless campers from across the city.

“Right now we are like a car stuck in the snow, spinning our wheels,” Yu said.

To change the situation will require everyone pushing the in the same direction, he said.

Coun. Cori Ramsay said she came to council on Monday night, ready to make a decision on the proposed changes to the Parks and Open Spaces Bylaw.

“There has been a lot of discussion on human rights…The update is to bring the bylaw into compliance so it isn’t a human rights violation,” Ramsay said. “(But) the end goal is for there not to be any encampments in the city.”

City council requested city staff bring back additional options, other than hiring private security guards to patrol the neighbourhood around the encampment, including possibly expanding hours the city’s bylaw officers are on patrol or increasing funding for additional RCMP overtime to increase patrols.

“I don’t want to kick this too far down the road – we need to make a decision,” Coun. Kyle Sampson said.

Sampson said he knows the issue is contentious, but some of the abusive comments aimed at city staff are “disgusting” and out of line.

“This is their job,” Sampson said. “Say what you want about me, I signed up for that, but you don’t get to talk about our staff that way.”