Salmon Arm council will continue to gather input on a proposed panhandling bylaw, and allow time to pursue more compassionate solutions to the city’s homelessness concerns.
A public hearing was held in council chambers Monday night, Aug. 13, for the city’s street solicitation bylaw. At the end, the hearing was adjourned, leaving the bylaw at second reading.
If approved, the bylaw would limit solicitation (panhandling) on a street to within 15 metres of the entrance to a bank, credit union or trust company, an ATM, a bus stop or shelter, a restaurant with outdoor seating or the entrance to a theatre or art gallery. No person would be permitted to solicit from an occupant of a motor vehicle that is parked, stopped at a traffic control signal or stopped temporarily for the purpose of loading or unloading.
The bylaw also prohibits solicitation while seated or lying on a street, solicitation from sunset to sunrise and from a public bench or within a public plaza.
Every person who commits an offence would be liable to a fine and penalty of not more than $2,000 and not less than $50.
First to speak at the hearing, resident Sarah Weaver said she is concerned the bylaw would penalize people for being poor. She noted how the city recently went through a “social media process” celebrating an inclusive Salmon Arm, and suggested this inclusivity extend to helping those who are homeless and forced to live on the street.
“Surely our inclusiveness is broad enough to embrace them as well,” said Weaver.
Paige Hilland, acting residential co-ordinator with the Shuswap Area Family Emergency Society, noted how a lot of the language in the bylaw comes from larger urban centres (the bylaw was modelled after solicitation bylaws in Kamloops and Kelowna), communities that have “already put a lot of energy and resources into services for those who are homeless.”
“It’s putting the cart before the horse here, without providing comprehensive services for people who are homeless. We shouldn’t even be having a conversation about criminalizing further people who are homeless and have to live this kind of lifestyle,” said Hilland.
Downtown property owner Bill Laird supported putting the bylaw on hold to find a solution to the city’s homeless problem, but questioned what will happen after.
“Will we still hesitate to ask people to take advantage of that opportunity, or will we accept the fact that they’re still going to be sitting downtown asking for money?” said Laird.
Coun. Kevin Flynn thanked Laird for voicing his thoughts, but expressed disappointment in the lack of representation by downtown businesses.
“I find it a little bit frustrating that we’ve opened up this opportunity for public input and the people who asked us to try to make a difference with this issue aren’t here to speak to it,” said Flynn.
Following the presentations, council offered their thoughts on the bylaw. Flynn said he wished to take a step back as a community and come up with a compassionate solution, “not a rules-based solution, not fining people who don’t have the money….”
Flynn later noted council supported a resolution to send a letter to the B.C. government seeking support for an outreach worker.
Coun. Tim Lavery wasn’t opposed to putting the bylaw on hold and allowing for the development of community support initiatives. But he also supported having a minimal fine structure in place and increasing the size of solicitation-free zones around banks and other areas beyond the five metres supported in the provincial Safe Streets Act.
“I think it’s important that we be compassionate, we look for social support, but we also define some social behaviour…,” said Lavery.
Coun. Alan Harrison was supportive of “taking a pause, of taking time to do the right thing,” but also stressed that Salmon Arm lacks the resources to provide for all the social needs in the city.
“This issue is a balance between compassion and safety in my mind,” said Harrison. “We all know that bad luck can bring poverty, mental health and addiction, and we’re not the first community to be dealing with this. Communities all over the world have been dealing with this, trying to deal with it, and I don’t think any of them could say we’ve got this problem solved.”