WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT HOMELESSNESS?
A CONVERSATION WITH MAYOR KEN POPOVE
Looking for some perspective and solutions with the homeless issue.
STAFF—VOICE FILE PHOTO
Note: The conversation here was done
without any recording device, so it is my interpretation of it and Mayor Ken
Popove may or may not agree.
Hello my mayor. Thanks for seeing me today. I appreciate that. I don't know how you can do this and run a business. I'm not sure what to call you. Behind the bench, it's "your worship", out there it's "Kenny P".
I don't like the term "worship". Just call me Ken.
Voice: Bicycles and construction don't mix. These guys are running around with no helmets. Should there be bicycles downtown?
Popove: You can't stop that. There's no way to control it.
Voice: You could take a few bicycles and once they see that... <cut off>
Voice: Once you take ... <cut-off>
Popove: No way to do it.
Comment: Riding around in Vancouver without a helmet will get you a ticket in 5 minutes and there are 631,000 people in the area up to Burnaby. The law reads: No person driving a bicycle upon a roadway shall carry any package, bundle or article which prevents the rider from keeping both hands on the handlebars or interferes with the normal operation of the bicycle. How many times have you seen someone riding on a bicycle with one hand? There have been many complaints about these people downtown wreaking havoc on sidewalks and some are being hit by cars.
Ruth and Naomi's
Voice: Have you ever heard of the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver?
Popove: Sort of. I've heard of it. I don't know it.
Voice: At Main and Hastings.
Popove: <Nods> I've seen it.
Voice: It's a hub for illegal activity at night. In the daytime it's political activists.
Popove: Yes, I know all that.
Voice: We're talking people here. Ruth and Naomi's is at the heart of Chilliwack. You'll never be able to "clean up" the downtown with them there. They're on prime real estate.
Popove: They own the property. We can't do anything about them.
Comment: Street people say they deal dope right in front of the Christian-based business making it an attractant for the nefarious side of the community. The outfit has some beds for which they charge $750/mo that includes "three square meals". "Clients" are only allowed to stay one month but some say they've stayed much longer. "They like me," said one, "I've been able to stay for four months now." The money is deducted from their welfare cheques.
Alternative Location Hub for Homeless
Voice: Back in the early 80's the mayor and council of the day in Jasper, Alberta, the tourist Mecca, didn't want hippies sitting around downtown so they gave them a place to stay a mile or two from town...<interrupted>.
Popove: No way. <chortles>
Voice: So you don't think that it would be better to find a place out in industrial lowland for facilities to help the homeless out there around the welfare office.
Popove: I don't know where. No.
Voice: So you don't want to see PRCS, Salvation Army, Ruth and Naomi's, a safe injection site, soup kitchen, a place for incoming homeless to put their tents while waiting to get placement, a cold weather shelter, a store, a safe injection site, my doctor says the city needs one, a first aid area in one place? Addicts are using the Emergency Room at the hospital as a community centre.
Popove: <shrugs> Well, what can we do? A safe injection site is different than a safe consumption site.
Voice: The Salvation Army is in a bad spot and has outgrown itself.
Popove: No it hasn't. They own their own property they can do what they want.
Voice: The homeless will be coming (to Chilliwack) for all kinds of reasons like "demovictions" (where building owners evict people saying they want to renovate.)
Popove: I know about demovictions.
Voice: And through attrition.
Voice: Once they find out how benevolent Chilliwack is, the hordes will be coming.
Popove: <Looked concerned>.
Comment: Have a look at the Salvation Army the next time you drive by. Traffic on Yale is always slowed down as people turn in there. There is so little room that just a sidewalk separates the modular structure there from Yale Rd.
Transportation to Chilliwack
Popove noted in council last year that the bus ride from Langley to Chilliwack is "only $5 so we need to look at that". Mr. Popove doesn't think that even "binners" (can colllectors) could come up with $10 in bus fare. How would Mr. Popove come up with something to rectify that situation? Is paying more than $5 his idea of stopping homeless from coming? The homeless are coming in droves and Chilliwack has no forward-thinking plan. Don't look at the scoreboard during the game.
Drug Use Downtown
Voice: You're moving people along from block to block and they don't have anywhere to go.
Popove: We have 200 beds and the "Portal".
Voice: At the Portal, and other places, they have to be in there by 10pm and street people don't like it.
Popove: No. They can come in stoned out of their gourds, that's okay. They just can't come in after designated hours.
The "Portal" is a temporary one-level
structure for homeless on Yale Road run by Ruth and Naomi's adjacent to the
hub of illegal drug dealing where users deal in the lot and malinger which
can be described as "ground zero" in Chilliwack—the perfect spot with a
parking lot at a store to avoid drawing suspicion and scores of people
hanging around because the Portal is next door. The Portal used to be the
Lion's second-hand store now it's a place where people can bed down. Ruth
and Naomi's has done it again.
Voice: What about vagrancy? These people are all over the city. Vagrancy is illegal.
Popove: No it's not.
Voice: Vagrancy is not illegal?
Popove: No it's not.
Voice: Police aren't doing anything.
Popove: They can't, it's not illegal.
Comment: Many homeless miscreants huddle behind umbrella's smoking illicit drugs. Chilliwack resembles Calcutta. Most people in the community feel that the reason why there are homeless is because they spend any money they have on drugs. After looking into it, there's a fine line between loitering and vagrancy. Vagrancy is defined as begging, blocking door wells. There is a scenario where someone is standing on the street waiting to go to the doctor's office etc. or sitting on a street bench. Vagrancy is also defined as someone who is not moving for extended periods of time. Popove is partially right, however According to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it's not impossible to be charged with vagrancy if:
The crown should prove:
• the identity of the accused as culprit
• the jurisdiction in which the incident occurred (neighbourhood, city/town, and province)
• the time and date of the incident
• loiters in a public place and
• in any way obstructs persons who are in that place
In Canada, the Criminal Code recognizes and punishes the offence as follows (§175):
"Everyone who ...loiters in a public place ... is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction."
A small city in the US created a bylaw that banned malingerers.
Voice: The group that's putting up the modulars around the city...
Voice: Yes, Raincity. I've seen Raincity operating in the Downtown East Side (DTES) for decades under different names where they've circled the wagons creating a problem by taking over the DTES. I know this because I produced a newspaper there.
Popove: Yes, I know (produced a newspaper there).
Voice: In Chilliwack, this group has been putting up these "modulars" around here and there. If you give them the keys to the city, like on Trethewey, the same thing will happen here. So they're allowed to pick their spots in an attempt to take control?
Popove: That's BC Housing.
Voice: So BC Housing goes around
looking for spots?
Voice: The homeless start fires all around the city to keep warm and cook things.
Popove: Yes I know, like under the overpass.
Voice: Well, it's all over. Last week, they started a fire at the 7-11. There was another one the other night. They happen all the time.
Popove: In the parking lot at the 7-11? I haven't been told about that.
Voice: No, at the lot across the street.
(CFD can verify that they've gone out on
upwards to a dozen homeless fire calls in the last month.)
Comment: Raincity is a corporate enterprise who makes applications to BC Housing to build and place modular structures.
Paramount Sign - Not discussed during the meeting.
Comment: Spearheaded by Ken Popove, the City has given the go ahead to let the old Paramount neon sign, which is a public asset, fall into the hands of a private enterprise to use for their own gain to advertise their building when in fact, based on a Facebook query, most agreed the sign should have been mounted on Wellington Ave. to help the merchants there with their business and make it a showcase street that people want to see. Right now the only thing people see is the Royal Hotel. They don't want to see a street full of empty stores. You want tour buses dropping people off. There's nothing to bring in tourists to Chilliwack who don't want to hike or climb. Popove was deemed "brilliant" for that scheme.
Too much has been made of Mill St. when half
of the shortest street in Chilliwack is an empty parking lot.
The conversation with the mayor wasn't a bare knuckle affair. We didn't go at each other hammer and tong. It was affable. All of my suggestions were disregarded as being too far-fetched and I felt I was just wasting his time. I don't see that any of my questions or comments were out of line.
A lot of people think that governments can mess up a one-line puzzle, especially municipal, but going into the meeting I set the bar high, but not so high the obstacles couldn't be overcome. If it's their unceded land then money can do anything. Is spending $406,000 on a bike trail that no one will use (another "brilliant" Popove incentive) a smart move, or is putting the money towards the homeless situation a better idea? Has anyone seen a cyclist using any of the designated lanes in Chilliwack? If so, how many times? Do any of the ones who pushed the Vedder trail incentive through ride a bicycle? If so, how many? Was it on Sunday?
I support safe cycling. I rode a bicycle across the country in my youth. It's refreshing to see a real cyclist with a helmet and lights. With the exception of tours and races, I saw two in Chilliwack last year.
As far as "cleaning up" the downtown when vagrancy is allowed goes, then adding 6 flat-footed cops isn't going to do anything.
There's no strategy moving forward. The homeless situation is hard to parse out but demands a full-throttled response because the problem will be compounded as the gypsy wagons roll in. There could be a dozen new people a week showing up in Chilliwack. Adding a modular trailer here and there won't make any difference except for twenty lucky people.
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