During the past three years, the Town of Qualicum Beach has seen an increase in its homeless and transient population, which is causing a higher demand for the time and attention of the town’s single bylaw enforcement officer.
Town of Qualicum Beach planner Luke Sales told council at a regular meeting on April 8 that with the increase of homeless individuals, there are stresses placed on existing services to manage the associated risks. Public safety risks that stem from homeless camps and people include fire hazards, discarded needles and fecal matter and urine that require removal.
“Public safety concerns are the top priority to our bylaw enforcement department and this concern was highlighted in 2018 when a citizen was injured stepping on a used syringe,” Sales said. “The town does only have one bylaw enforcement officer and that has remained consistent, so a lot of the work done by our bylaw department has been shifted towards minding some of the homeless sites that occur through the town.”
Homeless individuals, Sales said, tend to frequent areas of town including forested areas of the Community Park, the Heritage Forest and the Berwick well fields.
A 2018 homeless count co-ordinated by the province found that 42 people were identified as experiencing homelessness from Nanoose Bay to Bowser.
Sales said the time required by the town’s bylaw officer to attend these types of calls increased significantly over the spring and summer months last year and the town anticipates a slight to moderate increase in 2019. He added that with the added attention to public safety issues, the bylaw officer may have to focus less on other issues.
“So you’ve seen a displacement of some of those previous responsibilities as more time is spent on homelessness,” Sales said.
A report made by Don Marshall, the town’s bylaw officer, states that the time needed for one bylaw officer to patrol and address homeless issues in summer 2019, would be approximately 10 to 20 hours per week.
“This time could increase depending on the specific circumstances and the number of incidents that arise,” reads the report. “Given the town has one bylaw officer, this could significantly impact the other services and areas of duties that fall within the bylaw department.”
Coun. Adam Walker made a motion that council direct staff to revise the 2019 budget to allow for increased bylaw enforcement required to address issues around homelessness without increasing the tax rate.
“We have a growing problem in this community and it’s not something we can pretend isn’t there…it will take a lot of our bylaw enforcement officer’s time this summer and I don’t want to see that at expense of enforcing other bylaws,” Walker said. “We don’t have to have the budget done until May 15, I don’t think this will be a tremendously expensive undertaking for the summer to increase our bylaw enforcement. I don’t want to see something as simple as bylaw enforcement brushed under the rug and have that affect the quality of life of our citizens.”
The motion was defeated by a 4-1 vote.
Coun. Robert Filmer believes the town needs to start looking at the “bigger picture” in regards to the bylaw department.
“When our bylaw officer chooses to retire and leave the town what are we going to be doing?” Filmer said. “I don’t think it is very fair for the bylaw officer to be dealing with stuff like this on his own. [The report] says he’s dealing with fecal matter and bottles of urine.”
The town’s CAO Daniel Sailland added that many times the bylaw officer doesn’t work in complete isolation.
“When calls come in there’s a number of different parties that get involved,” Sailland said. “Very often it is a bylaw issue and bylaw does take the lead but there are a number of our parks department (members) that get involved… where necessary the RCMP will provide support and when we get to the matter of urine and fecal matter being handled, we actually have a contractor trained in hazmat.”
The town’s deputy chief administrator, John Marsh, advised council to go with the current budget as presented and wait on making any amendments.
Coun. Scott Harrison agreed that waiting and making a plan to address the bylaw department in the budget rather than making a decision at the council meeting.
“I’m not certain we should be playing with the budget in council meetings on the fly like this,” he said. “I think we’re better served having a more measured approach.”
Mayor Brian Wiese said in the past, the town has had the opportunity to go to the Regional District of Nanaimo’s bylaw enforcement officer for assistance when required and that’s something they may do in the future.
“I think tonight, I find it hard to support the motion, but I support the cause,” Wiese said.