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City seeking injunction to remove George Street encampment

Proposed bylaw targets drug use, panhandling, ‘nuisance' behaviour

On Thursday, the city announced it will be seeking a civil injunction to remove unlawful encampments downtown, including the one on George Street across from the court house.

The city announced it will be serving notice of trespass to the residents of the George Street encampment on Friday.

"In addition to representing an unlawful occupation and trespass on City property, encampments present several health, safety, legal, and environmental challenges," a city statement issued Thursday evening said.

A proposed bylaw going before city council on Monday would authorize bylaw officers to ticket people for a wide range of offences including panhandling, open drug use and camping in public areas.

Under the proposed Safe Streets Bylaw, bylaw officers could issue $100 tickets, with a $75 penalty for late payment, for a variety of "nuisance" behaviour. In addition, city council is being asked to approve an amendment to the Parks and Open Spaces Bylaw to allow homeless people to temporarily camp in designated areas, when shelters in the city are full.

"This initiative is designed to remove any questions of interpretation by using plain language and set out clear expectations of behaviour in the downtown and throughout Prince George," Adam Davey wrote in his report to council. "The City of Prince George does not have any specific bylaws that deal with aggressive panhandling, loitering, littering, laying on or obstructing sidewalks, graffiti, overt drug use, disposal of needles and drug paraphernalia, creation of structures and temporary shelters and open burning."

Davey is the city's director of community services and public safety.

The city's bylaw department has seen an exponential growth in calls for service related to discarded needles, open drug use and to clean up tent sites, human waste, open fires and other issues.

In 2017, the city received six calls about needles and 149 calls classed as "other" related to tents, open drug use, human waste or other concerns. In 2020, bylaw services got 497 calls about needles and 1,796 other calls, Davey wrote. 

As of June 4, the city has gotten 219 calls about needles and 931 other calls so far this year.

"Though ‘Needle’ and ‘Other’ (calls) impact many areas of the city, it appears to be concentrated in the larger downtown (including Gateway) and bowl area," Davey added.

Under the proposed Safe Streets Bylaw, it would be prohibited to panhandle within 10 metres of a bank or ATM, bus stop, daycare centre, liquor store, cannabis store, restaurant, coffee shop or convenience store.

The bylaw would also prohibit panhandling people in vehicles when they are parked, stopped at a traffic light or stop sign, filling up at a gas station, or in any way that obstructs traffic.

Panhandling would also be prohibited after sunset daily.

Bylaw officers could also ticket people for using prohibited drugs, or disposing of drug paraphernalia, on any street, open space area or park.

The proposed bylaw would also prohibit open burning on any street, open area or park, graffiti and sitting, lying down or physically approaching people in a way that causes an obstruction on a street or sidewalk.

"Consideration of the implementation of the Safe Streets Bylaw ought to be done in conjunction with the establishment of a preferred location(s) for the homeless population to overnight camp when shelter space is unavailable..." Davey wrote. "Administration will also be presenting permissible locations for overnight camping for Council’s consideration (on June 28), under strict and specific rules as outlined in the Bylaw, and only when shelter space is unavailable. Administration has confirmed with BC Housing that there appears to be adequate shelter availability in Prince George so that homeless persons have an indoor space to sleep at night, should they wish."

Under the proposed changes to the parks bylaw, homeless people would be allowed to put up tents or other temporary shelters in the designated areas between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. when shelters are full. They would be required to pack up all their belongings and leave each morning by 9 a.m., according to the proposed bylaw.

Further proposed restrictions would require those setting up tents to stay 50 metres away from any trails or sidewalks, and 100 metres away from playgrounds, sports fields, private property, picnic areas, public washrooms or other park features.

Currently the city's bylaws allow bylaw staff to remove people from parks and open spaces if they are camping, starting fires, littering or using alcohol. Bylaw officers also have the authority to move people and their possessions if they are blocking roads or sidewalks, Davey wrote.

"The City is also working with partner agencies such as Northern Health and other levels of government to improve conditions in the downtown," Davey wrote. "To be clear, these are not solutions, however provide additional tools and clarification that may better address the ongoing matter."