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Transitional housing project in downtown Prince George raises ire of adjacent business owner

Summit Power Tools owner Steve Taylor convinced city's alternate to Moccasin Flats encampment is doomed to fail

Steve Taylor is not happy with what’s happening in his neighbourhood.

While city construction crews lay down the infrastructure for a complex of trailers that will become a 44-unit transitional housing facility to provide safe shelter for as many as 88 unhoused people, the owner of Summit Power Tools, on the opposite side of Third Avenue, is worried about what that means for the future of his business.

The construction site borders London Street/Lower Patricia Boulevard and Third and Fourth Avenues and is adjacent to the Moccasin Flats encampment, which the city plans to close once the BC Housing shelter become operational and the services it provides are in place. That project is expected to be completed by August or September.

Taylor attended the city council meeting on Apr. 29 and was surprised that just one councilor, Tim Bennett, asked city staff how the transitional housing complex being built on Third Avenue will be different from any of the other nine supportive housing facilities in the city that are either completed or under construction. He said the answer given to Bennett offered no explanation.

The city has budgeted $468,126 to provide the ground preparation and water/sewer and utilities hookups that will serve the housing project. BC Housing will apply for a three-year temporary use permit and will also enter into a lease agreement with the city for the property.

“They keep throwing these band-aids at the problem, there’s no way the city should agree to have to pay half a million dollars to another failed idea,” Taylor said. “People don’t want to go into (shelters) because you can’t bring your stuff with you, there’s some rules to follow, the whole thing seems headed in the wrong direction.”

Taylor has two young children and he stopped bringing him to his store a couple years ago when his daughter discovered a used syringe on the property.

“My family doesn’t come down here anymore, I’m losing business,” said Taylor.

“As a society, we are doing these people much harm; for one, they’re being enabled by giving them drugs and they’re not in their right mind to be enabled, not being given the proper opportunity to go through rehab.

“It sounds like they’re getting legal drugs and reselling them, and that’s a huge flaw of our system.  Right out of the gate, get rid of the opioids, go to something else.”

Taylor agrees more mental health and addictions treatment programs are needed to treat people hooked on illicit drugs, who often resort to property crime to feed their habits. But he says when they get caught stealing, there has to be repercussions.

“By creating all these rehab programs but not forcing people into it you’ll never get them there, that’s been proven,” Taylor said. “The socialistic government direction that we’re going in has failed every single time. You have to give them a chance to go to rehab and if that doesn’t work out then you have to do some jail time, and after jail time you have them another chance for rehab. We have to do something different than this.”

Summit Power Tools has been at 320 Third Ave., since 2019, and prior to that Taylor leased a site on Fifth Avenue, not far from the encampment. He says the failure of the court system to prosecute repeat offenders and give them jail sentences is why crime has gotten so out of hand in the downtown core.

“It started when I was over there (at the Fifth Avenue location) but it was different then, you’d call the cops and guys would get arrested and it wasn’t too bad,” said Taylor. “Now, it’s common knowledge for them, they can steal. Theft over $5,000 means nothing at all to them and they know that, and they just finger the cops, they don’t care.

“People have to go to jail for stealing, that’s just ludicrous. I just can’t believe this whole ‘catch-and-release,’ mentality or where that even came from. The cops can’t do anything, they straight up will let you know you kind of have to deal with it yourself because they don’t want to. They do a bunch of paperwork and they know that buddy will soon be back on the streets. It’s tough enough to get him in front of judge and for what? It’s insane.”

Taylor has had numerous issues in his 12 years of operating his business with people climbing over the fence to steal items. One enterprising thief stole a picker truck from the nearby scrapyard and used it to grab two lawn tractors and a side-by-side quad from Taylor’s yard. Since then he’s invested in high-tech security cameras and software system which depends on algorithms to detect intruders. He says the system has been activated hundreds of times and the RCMP usually respond within three to five minutes.

“It’s damn-near once a week,” he said. “The wintertime is bad. I have a metal bin and they try to get that. They’ll try to get push mowers, trimmers, I keep the more expensive stuff farther away from them.

“It seems like an actual big theft gets tried quarterly.”

The supplier of the Husqvarna products Taylor sells has asked him to take on more inventory and he has the space in his yard but won’t do that because he’s worried about theft. He says his repair business has also suffered because he doesn’t have the indoor space in his shop to store machines in need of repair dropped off by clients.

Taylor’s Third Avenue store is bordered by DART Lawn and Yard Care and BST Performance Automotive. He says since the plan to build transitional housing right next to those businesses was approved, none of the elected council members have consulted with them about the city’s plan.

“Mayor Simon Yu twice, on email, said he was coming down to talk to me and he’s never come down to talk to me,” said Taylor. “At that (Apr. 29) meeting every single one of the councilors were patting themselves on the back about how they’ve walked and they’ve talked to residents and all the businesses and how they’ve been working hard on this.

“I was upset we didn’t get a chance to talk. None of them has worked as hard as me. I’m picking up garbage every single day, my yard gets broken into at least one a month. Luckily I’ve got a killer (security) system, but I’m still fixing fences. It’s just a lack of communication, no one is talking to me.”

Taylor said it was the city’s decision to dismantle the camp in November 2021, a month after a court decision allowed the camp to remain open until suitable housing and daytime facilities were available. That led to two other court challenges, both of which the city lost.

“The councilors were talking about all the legal stuff they’ve done on this but they got themselves into that predicament when they tried to clean up Moccasin Flats,” said Taylor. “That was their screw-up.”

Taylor empathizes with people from the surrounding residential areas in the Miller Addition and Connaught neighbourhoods, many of whom were dead-set against council giving its final approval to construct the camp at that April city hall meeting.

“Everybody will tell you, they’ve all had somebody passed out in their yard or they’ve had things stolen or attempts, it’s scary,” said Taylor. “What sucks is the majority of them are between 60 and 90 years old. They’ve got big houses, they want to downsize and get out and their property isn’t worth near what it should be and from what I hear, they’re not getting help from anybody. That’s super sad.”