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Town hall meeting on public safety planned for May

City council wants to hear from the community about complex social issues that lead to homeless encampments and what can be done to solve the problem
Moccasin flats
Temporary shelters are seen in the Lower Patricia encampment, named Moccasin Flats by its residents.

A notice of motion for Prince George to host a public forum to discuss the unhoused encampment situation in the downtown core, the complex social issues camp residents are struggling with and how they relate to community safety was approved in Monday’s council meeting.

The town hall meeting will be held sometime in May at a yet-to-be-determined site.

Coun. Kyle Sampson, with support from councilors Tim Bennett and Cori Ramsay, said the public concerns, ideas and suggestions will be useful to help council formulate action items to address the concerns of downtown businesses and area residents who have seen conditions deteriorate since the Moccasin Flats encampment was established in 2021.

Council agreed to provide as much as $20,000 to facilitate the town hall meeting.

“I think it’s a no brainer that we need this town hall and to engage with the community,” said Sampson.

“I don’t really understand the confusion from some of my colleagues around any costs being associated with it - everything we do costs money. We need to be fiscally responsible and we are and this is not a free blank cheque to spend whatever we want.”

The cost to rent the full auditorium at the Prince George Conference and Civic Centre for a one-day event is $4,935, if that is where the meeting the will be held. The town hall would also require a facilitator to run the meeting. As Sampson told council Monday, he has yet to line up a person to perform that duty.

He also said there would be costs associated with audio/visual equipment, info graphics and material for open-house displays and advertising/communications.

“This is a relatively minor amount of money that we can spend up to, as allowable by this motion, to engage in probably our most notable issue facing our community,” said Sampson.

The town hall panel would include mayor and council and key city administrators, including city manager Walter Babicz, fire chief Cliff Warner, bylaws manager Charlotte Peters, as well as Prince George RCMP superintendent Shaun Wright.

Mayor Simon Yu and councilors Trudy Klassen and Brian Skakun voted against using the city’s contingency budget to make the town hall meeting happen.

“We spend enough money on other things, we have trained staff, we have our own facilities and our administration could give it to us in-kind, we don’t think we need to spend money on finding out what we already know,” said Skakun.

“But I have no problem with getting the dialogue, letting people tell us what they think – we know what they think. I know we’re not going to hear much different, but it might be an opportunity for the RCMP and others to say, ‘this is why we’re not arresting, because of the courts. Our hands are really tied.’”

Yu is not against spending money on the meeting but said he wanted details of the costs to be vetted at the first meeting of the standing committee on public safety.

Two weeks ago, Yu gained council approval to set up that committee, not knowing beforehand about Sampson’s plan to push forward the town hall concept.

Councilors Skakun, Klassen and Ron Polillo will be part of the standing committee and Yu told council Monday he still has one seat yet to fill on the seven-person board.

Yu suggested that first meeting should focus on forming the structure of the town hall meeting. He’s hoping city residents will engage in both.

“The standing committee on public safety is open to the public and if you write or email and want to present material in front of the committee you’re welcome to do so, but that doesn’t stop you from going to the town hall,” said Yu.

“I would like to see the recommendations and the concerns expressed in the town hall regarding public safety be vetted out through the standing committee… through an action item to staff.”