CITY STAFF DEAL WITH DOWN­TOWN CLEANUP,

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page - CHRIS­TINE HINZMANN Staff Re­porter chinz­[email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

Clean­ing up the garbage left from the home­less in the down­town core starts every morn­ing at 7 a.m.

For the last year and a half, it’s been a pi­lot project to im­prove down­town safety and clean­li­ness that sees a pair of by­law com­pli­ance as­sis­tants do­ing the dirty work.

The pro­gram is now a per­ma­nent part of the city’s by­law ser­vices de­part­ment.

The two men, clad in Kevlar vests and us­ing Kevlar lined leather gloves, who do the job wish to stay anony­mous for their own per­sonal safety. Both are for­mer cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers and they say the skills they learned as jail guards trans­fers nicely to their cur­rent po­si­tions.

Since Jan­uary, they have re­moved more than 31,000 pounds of garbage, in­clud­ing many five-gal­lon buck­ets of used nee­dles, from Prince Ge­orge’s down­town.

“And that’s just what we’ve done,” says by­law ser­vices man­ager Fred Crit­ten­den. “Parks and solid wastes will also pick up stuff, espe­cially when we go into the big camps that are in some of the parks and open spa­ces.”

Every morn­ing, the by­law ser­vices pair fill a half-ton pickup with an eight-foot box cov­ered with a high­boy canopy af­ter rous­ing the home­less and mov­ing them along, as they take care of what’s left over.

The reg­u­lars who sleep in front of or near the down­town busi­nesses have got­ten used to the rou­tine and of­ten will ask for garbage bags to clean up their area them­selves.

“Since the pro­gram started we’ve dealt with 1,500 squat­ting or camp calls,” Crit­ten­den says. “That in­cludes any­thing from sleep­ing in a vestibule in front of a build­ing or in one of the parkades, to a full-blown tent city that might be hid­den away in one of our parks or open spa­ces. In ad­di­tion to that there was an­other 345 calls specif­i­cally to just go pick up nee­dles that are dis­carded by in­tra­venous drug users.”

Those num­bers rep­re­sent about 35 per cent of the by­law calls for ser­vice, Crit­ten­den adds.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that the com­mu­nity knows what kind of re­sources are be­ing used and the kinds of things the city is do­ing that if they weren’t do­ing it, who would be do­ing it? It’s all about try­ing to main­tain the com­mu­nity’s liv­abil­ity.”

The by­law ser­vices team has an ex­tra task on top of its reg­u­lar down­town du­ties with a tent city be­yond the Lombardy trailer park. It was first dis­cov­ered two days ear­lier and those liv­ing there had put up fences and at­tempted to cam­ou­flage the area while us­ing gen­er­a­tors op­er­at­ing at full steam with tele­vi­sions and heaters work­ing in the tents.

Re­vis­it­ing the site two days later, they saw it was down to about half of what it had been and that was good progress.

One of the by­law as­sis­tants says tent cities are pop­ping up in the out­ly­ing ar­eas more of­ten be­cause of how ef­fec­tive the project has be­come that moves the home­less out of the down­town core every morn­ing. The other stresses that there is mis­use of some of the items do­nated to the non-profits that help the home­less.

“In no way are we try­ing to dis­suade peo­ple from mak­ing do­na­tions or help­ing out these or­ga­ni­za­tions be­cause they do won­der­ful things,” Crit­ten­den says. “But it’s like any­thing and some­times it’s not like peo­ple think it is.”

“Peo­ple de­serve to know the big pic­ture,” says one of the com­pli­ance as­sis­tants. “And it’s a frus­trat­ing one.”

There are many re­sources where peo­ple can get back­packs, blan­kets and cloth­ing.

“In a sense these peo­ple don’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate what they have,” notes the same com­pli­ance as­sis­tant. “They take it for granted be­cause they know that if it gets soiled, if it gets left be­hind, they can just go around the corner or to the next street and they’ll get a new blan­ket, be­cause some­body is go­ing to drop it off. They’ll get these blan­kets, this jacket, the ex­tra cloth­ing and they’ll sleep it in, maybe they’ll defe­cate around it and put it on the ground and maybe it gets wet, frozen and in­stead of valu­ing what they’ve been given they just get up and walk away from it. It’s too much work to dry it out, too much work to fold it up, too much work to clean. They’ll just go back and get brand new stuff or dry stuff. We are en­abling in that way be­cause they take for granted what they’ve been given be­cause it’s al­ways there.”

With the re­cent des­ig­na­tion of the RCMP Down­town Safety Unit, the by­law as­sis­tants work closely with those six of­fi­cers.

“In the last three weeks – month – that they’ve started at 7 a.m. it’s made a huge dif­fer­ence. They value us and we value them. I re­mem­ber the first day the su­per­vi­sor asked ‘you have to deal with this every morn­ing?’ - the back talk and the lip, and even he was kind of sur­prised so now they’re there to back us up if they get out of line and we’re there to take all the stuff they nor­mally wouldn’t know what to do with - we text back and forth - we’re here, we’re there, and it’s a team ef­fort and it works amaz­ing.”

When the as­sis­tants first ap­proach peo­ple, it’s a rou­tine every­one un­der­stands.

“We show up and there’s some­body sleep­ing and they are in be­hind card­board and we ask ‘are you OK? Time to get up and start clean­ing up af­ter your­self’ and they slowly come to.”

“We are also first point of con­tact,” says the other by­law com­pli­ance as­sis­tant.

“And we’re there to see if they’re even alive,” the first as­sis­tant notes. “It’s some­thing that’s al­ways in the back of your mind.”

So far, they’ve been lucky.

CIT­I­ZEN PHOTO

A by­law com­plance as­sis­tant of­fi­cer checks a field along Queensway near a tent city that was dis­cov­ered be­hind the Lombardy trailer park last week. Be­low: Part of a home­less camp be­hind the Lombardy trailer park.

CIT­I­ZEN PHOTO

Part of a camp set up at the far east end of Third Av­enue.

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