UPDATE: Energeticcity.ca also chatted with the executive director of the local Salvation Army to get his take on the potential bylaw. To read more: click here.
FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — The City of Fort St. John will receive a recommendation from councillor Trevor Bolin to create a bylaw restricting tent use and homeless encampments on public property.
Bolin says in addition to a small encampment outside of the Northern Centre of Hope, there are allegedly people living in Fish Creek Community Forest and outside a vacant building that was previously a Kal Tire.
“It seems that we’ll work with a group that’s in a certain area and help them to move along, and that just turns into them setting up in another area,” said Bolin.
“What we’re doing currently isn’t working, and we don’t actually have bylaws to prevent this.”
Bolin says the encampments around town have resulted in Fort St. John residents expressing their opinions in community groups on Facebook.
“They’re upset, and rightfully so,” said Bolin. “It [the encampents] can be quite an eyesore.”
According to Bolin, the current procedure sees business owners who are affected by the encampments filing a trespassing report with the Fort St. John RCMP, which “becomes a longer, more drawn out issue than it needs to be.”
“If we had a bylaw that just said there’s no softshell camping of sorts on public lands in the downtown, or anywhere that’s zoned commercial or industrial, that gives us the ability to then deal within our means so we can start to nip this in the bud,” said Bolin.
Bolin says his father suffered from homelessness and drug addiction and, from his personal experience, believes some of the people occupying the encampments are doing so by choice.
“I would ask my dad and the people residing in the same encampment as him, why are you here? Why are you choosing this?” said Bolin.
“It’s because they could and didn’t have to answer to anybody. There were no rules, no regulations, they could live their lives the way they wanted and freely do drugs and use substances that may have been frowned upon at other institutions or facilities.”
According to Bolin, the provincial government “is not doing its job,” so the City of Fort St. John is taking matters into their own hands, and it isn’t the first time they’ve had to do so.
“We’ve been breaking a lot of trail lately,” said Bolin.
“We were one of the first municipalities to start a bylaw that would make it illegal to use narcotics in public places because the feds and the province dropped the ball on that. This isn’t the first time that I think Fort St. John is going to be out in front, and it certainly won’t be the last time.”
Bolin is set to write up a detailed recommendation that will then be sent to city staff to draw up a bylaw that will be presented to council to vote on at a regular council meeting on July 24th. The bylaw would then need to be read three times before being implemented.