Nelson could become a national embarrassment if the city moves ahead with a proposed panhandling bylaw according to homelessness advocate Ann Harvey. She’d like to see a street outreach worker introduced instead.
“We do not believe this is the wisest path to most effectively address the issues you’re hoping to address,” she told council Monday, comparing the controversial bylaw to the overturned dog bylaw that earned Nelson negative headlines across the country.
“It will not address the loitering issue, which seems to be a continuing thread running through multiple council attempts to address this issue with everything from street redesigns to dog bylaws.”
Harvey, who is the community co-ordinator for the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, noted that according to the police chief there were very few instances of police conflict with the street population last year, with only one that led to a criminal charge.
With that in mind, she challenged the reasoning behind it.
“We seriously question why council would create a special bylaw and all it entails to enforce it, for such a low number of incidents.”
The proposed panhandling bylaw has earned the support of Mayor Deb Kozak and councillors Michael Dailly, Janice Morrison and Bob Adams. Anna Purcell, Val Warmington and Robin Cherbo have voted against it.
“We noted the degree of discomfort the councillors have with this bylaw at the last meeting and we noted your support of the street culture collaborative,” Harvey said. “We also acknowledge you said the panhandling bylaw could be rescinded in the future.”
So, she asked, why pass it in the first place?
She noted that both the BC Civil Liberties Union and Pivot Legal Society have taken issue with the bylaw have taken issue with the bylaw and are “following it with interest,” which could create legal implications for the city.
Harvey compared the situation to similar conflicts going on in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, where a BC Supreme Court judge recently fined the city for “discriminatory conduct” against street populations.
“The judge partly ruled this way because of the documented makeup of who the street population was and their protection under Canadian law,” Harvey said.
She suggested a new solution.
“We propose a different approach. We would like your public support of the street culture collaborative and our recommendations, and your active partnership in making those recommendations a reality, beginning with the call for an outreach worker.”
Paying for that will be cheaper than paying a bylaw or police officer, she said.
“We would propose a partnership to fund a one-year pilot project. Surely we can find the money for this together, with everyone pitching in.”
She said if the bylaw goes ahead it will damage Nelson’s reputation.
“Nelson has marketed itself around the world as a community with alternative, creative approaches to challenges and as a community of compassion. Let’s work together on this.”