Hope has to deal with public peeing, panhandling, harrassment, public drinking, public drug consumption and illegal fires, according to businesswoman Cindy Koszegi, who presented to council on July 24 as part of a delegation.
Koszegi would like them to form a community safety patrol which involves walking the streets and establishing a “uniformed presence.” Those members will be paid and will have skills in public safety matters, working daytime seven days a week.
“I really think that would make a difference because a visible presence on the streets is going to make them uncomfortable,” said Koszegi.
Her idea did not gain much traction with the five council members that attended, with councillors Heather Stewin and Dusty Smith absent. Instead, Mayor Wilfried Vicktor suggested forming a task force with various groups to form a solution after consultation with Coun. Gerry Dyble, who directs the Hope and Area Transition Society. The task force will involve police, business advocate groups, First Nations and social services.
Throughout the presentation, Koszegi repeatedly pushed her idea, suggesting to do a pilot project twice, and then evaluate it at the end. She pointed to an initiative in Chilliwack where security guards walk around with RCMP officers, “and apparently they are making quite a difference.”
The mayor asked chief administrative officer John Fortoloczky about his research on what other municipalities have done to combat this problem. Fortoloczky said creating a task force makes sense, which will receive support from District staff.
He will provide research for the task force on how to proceed, and they will determine their way forward.
The mayor then asked Hope RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Karol Rehnder for his comments.
“Is it a community safety patrol that’s going to be one of the solutions? Don’t know,” said Rehdner, who said he has no data to confirm or deny a patrol’s efficacy. He said that chasing away people who cause problems on the streets to other towns does not work and suggested “a bigger approach.”
“They need help,” said Rehdner. “The core issue … is not panhandling. That’s a result. That’s no different than breaking into cars, no difference than break and enters. It’s the same results.”
Coun. Gerry Dyble added to this by saying that if Hope starts a community patrol, they need trauma-informed personnel who can understand the root cause of why someone is, for example, passed out in public.
Coun. Donna Kropp suggested that way forward is for everyone to take more responsibility and pride.
“We don’t have a ton of resources that … we can start putting patrols out every day,” said Kropp. “But we do have an opportunity to look at what you brought … and what staff can bring forward from other communities and the task force. I’m really in favour of that.”
Coun. Bob Erickson suggested that the RCMP could patrol the areas at times when the problem appears at its peak.
The public also chipped in. A woman said the problem comes from six or seven people who have lived in Hope for a long time and have received social services and housing. They have not changed despite the help, she said.
“We have to be realistic. There are individuals that under no circumstances will ever free themselves of their severe alcohol and drug addictions,” said the woman. “And that’s what’s happening with the people that we are providing the services to here now are thumbing their noses at the town and there has to be a firmer hand taken.”
Vicktor, Medlock and Dyble also criticized the Hope and District Chamber of Commerce’s initiative to put window stickers that instruct people not to panhandle or loiter.
Vicktor said it will have no effect on people who are panhandling or doing drugs.
“We all know we have a problem,” said Vicktor. “We don’t necessarily have to put it on every business.”
Medlock said it will leave a negative impression with tourists because of the “bright, big ‘NO.’ ”
“I don’t want to see these signs on the windows because the only people who are going to see these are the tourists,” said Medlock. “The panhandlers aren’t going to see this and care about this.”
Koszegi said she does not expect panhandlers to care and sees the stickers as an acknowledgement to the tourists and residents that Hope is aware of the problem and wants to act on it.
Dyble agreed with Medlock saying it highlights the problem to the public and that these stickers represent a reactive means of dealing with the problem, not a proactive one.
Both Medlock and Dyble also stood against having the District sponsor the stickers.
“When I saw that the District logo was on those, that concerned me,” said Dyble. “I don’t think that that’s something that I would be voting in favour of.”
Chamber secretary Sharlene Harrison-Hinds added that the 17 recipients she delivered the stickers to thanked the Chamber and District for recognizing the problem.