Transient trouble, permanent cost

Parksville’s transient problem is beginning to have a permanent feel to it.

And along with the costs to public safety, downtown nuisance and business interruption, it’s hitting the community’s public pocketbook.

Debbie Comis, the city’s chief administrative officer, told council during its most recent meeting that 2016 was the first year in which Parksville’s city operations were directly impacted by the increase in transient/homeless encampments and “rampant” illicit drug use. Complaints to the city’s bylaw compliance office and/or Oceanside RCMP business mischief in the downtown core in the first half of 2017 were up 600 per cent over the number made in all of 2015.

The report offered several recommended options council might take to address what is becoming a local crisis, particularly with business mischief calls in the downtown core and the proliferation of discarded needles being found in some areas.

By choosing to defer adoption of either a needle recovery program or a controversial safe-injection site, it may appear council has avoided dipping into the public purse.

Too late.

The city has already budgeted a contract for biohazard cleanup to deal with discarded needles and other detritus that poses a threat to the public’s health and safety. It has also budgeted additional bylaw enforcement largely to deal with a problem that has left the city in a “continual response mode.”

It briefly considered budgeting two additional RCMP officers for the Oceanside detachment during budget deliberations this spring. At that time Staff Sgt. Marc Pelletier confirmed reports to the detachment of both mischief and criminal activity in town had increased dramatically over the preceding year.

With the summer winding down, and councillors scheduled to meet with cabinet ministers in the new NDP government later this month, Parksville’s council voted to stay the course and monitor the transient/drug issue for the next six months.

There is no single, quick fix to this issue, and it’s impacting municipalities across Vancouver Island. Many of them have already taken proactive steps, with Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Courtenay and Campbell River joining Victoria with safe-injections sites.

Funding from province and from Island Health can be tapped, but Parksville is going to have to ante up, and decide the best way to allocate its resources.

Because the city’s transient trouble isn’t going anywhere.

— Parksville Qualicum Beach News

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