A controversial new rule in Penticton will make it illegal to sit or lay on sidewalks. The amended ‘Good Neighbour’ bylaw will apply in the downtown core during the warmer months.
Could the Town of Oliver follow suit?
Mayor Martin Johansen sees why a municipal government would resort to such measures.
“I certainly sympathize and understand the frustration Penticton is going through trying to address the complaints associated with loitering and panhandling in the downtown area,” he said in an email. “From what I’ve read the new bylaw is an attempt to manage a difficult problem which is negatively impacting local businesses and residents.”
However, Johansen doesn’t believe it to be the right solution.
“I would have struggled to support this type of bylaw. In my opinion this bylaw will be difficult to enforce, will have limited impact changing behaviour and at best will just shift the problem to another area within the city.”
Penticton resident Chelsea Terry, who organized a sit-in protest last Saturday at Nanaimo Square, said the city’s bylaw deals with “a health crisis in a criminal fashion.”
Terry points out how the issue has drawn negative attention towards Penticton. Even the conservative newspaper Vancouver Sun published an editorial last weekend on the issue, titled “Fining the homeless isn’t the answer.”
If the bylaw is supposed to bring vibrancy to the city, “It is having the exact opposite effect as to its original intent,” Terry argues.
“Now we look like an uncaring town with no heart. I think that is a good warning to other communities to think compassionately and with empathy when deciding on an issue that is happening across many areas.”
Although the bylaw will apply to everybody, it is expected to disproportionately impact the homeless.
The amendment was passed with support from five of seven councillors, and has strong support from many Penticton residents, particularly among the downtown business community.
On one side of the issue, opponents are expressing strong compassion for those with nowhere to go and likely suffering from mental illness. They doubt that issuing a $100 fine to an extremely impoverished person will have any effect.
Supporters of the bylaw feel downtown Penticton has become very unsafe in recent years, and are pleased that authorities have one extra tool to create friction against a homeless population that seems to be growing. Also, police no longer have to wait for a sketchy-looking person to actually break the law before telling them to leave an area.