COLUMN: Infrastructure and panhandling

Councillor Cherbo hopes the new government will help cities with roads, bridges, and water lines. Plus: the complex issue of panhandling.

Most people are glad it is finally over: the longest federal election campaign in modern history. No matter what your party affiliation is, the result of the election is possibly a win for municipalities.

When the new federal Liberal government keeps their promise to fund infrastructure for municipalities, it will be definitely welcome. The estimated infrastructure deficit for municipalities is in the billions of dollars. The aging infrastructure is everything from water and sewer pipes to sidewalks, roads, and bridges, etc.

In Nelson we are doing reasonably well, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Our parking meter revenue goes into sidewalks and roads, but as most people can see more money is needed for repairs.

What people cannot see is underground where there is significant leakage in the old water pipes from the ‘60s. Also, there is an aging sewer pipe that goes under the West Arm of Kootenay Lake to our sewage treatment plant across the highway from Pacific Insight. To bring our infrastructure up to date will take millions of dollars, so hopefully the new federal government will live up to their promises of increased funding.

As for local issues, council is in the process of developing a panhandling bylaw. We have had input from individuals, businesses and committees. There are concerns from some people that we are picking on the homeless. At the same time businesses are concerned that panhandlers are causing them to lose customers. It seem that some of the aggressive panhandlers are transients moving through the area, during and after Kootenay events. There are always two sides involved with any issue.

Our street social workers say some panhandlers can be physically and verbally abused by people while on the streets. As well council has received some input that aggressive panhandlers can be verbally abusive to people walking by.

The police and bylaw officers would like some more specific  tools besides the Safe Streets Act to deal with this issue. I believe monetary fines are not the answer for perpetrators. A local pastor suggested hours of community work for aggressive panhandling violators, which seems to be a more appropriate solution. Washing dishes or sweeping out community halls might even be a deterrent. Although there are a number of places for food and meals, it is unfortunate that a lot of homeless people see panhandling as a source of money.

A concern for homeless people is they are not able to qualify for income assistance for a number of reasons, including not having a fixed address. While there are resources to help street people, years of cutbacks to funding puts most of the issues on municipalities and police forces. There needs to be an increase in social workers and mental health care workers to get a handle on the problems.

In closing, all municipalities hope for additional funding from the new Liberal federal government to deal with cities’ aging infrastructure, while locally the issue of developing a panhandling bylaw is a complex issue between the civil rights of panhandlers to be on the streets and ask for cash, while protecting citizens and business who wish to conduct their business free of hassles.

 

Nelson city councillor Robin Cherbo shares this space weekly with his council colleagues.

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