Downtown merchants who felt besieged by drunks, panhandlers and dogs have sensed something of a reprieve.
“During the day, I see a lot of change,” said Dave Carmichael, who called attention to the issue last month. “As far as what we were trying to accomplish, I’ve seen some gain.”
A meeting with the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Asssociation, the City, RCMP and various social agency representatives in December served to illuminate a number of related issues, Carmichael said.
Participants also came away with a set of recommendations to address the issue over the long term.
“I think we’re on the right track. I really do,” he said.
Jon Wilson, community safety and enforcement manager for the City, said an increased enforcement presence has helped, but the problem won’t be solved overnight.
The city is revisiting its panhandler bylaw, enacted in 2003, to see if it can be improved by making it more consistent with the province’s Safer Streets Act, which was brought in a year later.
Another possibility beyond this season is to establish a year-round safety patrol program similar to the summertime street ambassador program run by the KCBIA.
“That’s why we’re trying to find some funding for that possibility,” said Gay Pooler, general manager of the association. “Possibly year-round, but not at the same scale.”
The existing program, which runs May to August, draws on federal funding for student summer jobs and costs about $62,000, she noted.
But there is no simple solution, Pooler said.
“It’s a big subject. It’s nice to say, ‘We need to embrace homelessness,’ but if it were that easy, it would have been done a long time ago.”
She feels a variety of approaches will help to manage the issue. Education can serve to direct street people to the services they may require, but it might also ease the problem by informing the public.
“In the long run, it’s better to give money to an organization that helps people rather than giving it to someone in the street.”
That’s as simple as depositing the money in one of the yellow boxes installed for that purpose along Victoria Street, she said.
“If they don’t get the money, they won’t be there.”
She said merchants have also found that most panhandlers will move on if they’re asked, not told, to do so.