Pitt Meadows residents can’t say homelessness is not a problem in their community.
“We can no longer smugly say this is an issue only in other cities,” said Mayor John Becker.
As the mayor hosts community meetings about his city’s safety and security, he’s listening to residents who are worried about street entrenched people and “criminal transients.”
He is also hearing reports of discarded needles in Pitt Meadows parks, problems that haven’t plagued Pitt Meadows in the past.
“We have street people and folks who suffer from mental illness and addiction,” said Becker.
He added that the numbers are small, but the city needs to be proactive.
Pitt Meadows doesn’t have services for homeless people, and has even opposed a Fraser Health initiative to have free clean needles distributed there.
Becker said he still disagrees with service providers distributing boxes of needles “the way firefighters hand out candy on Pitt Meadows Day.”
If anything, clean needles should be exchanged with used “dirty” needles, he said.
Not having services has reduced the number of homeless who stay in Pitt Meadows, but it hasn’t eliminated them.
He has been hearing residents talk about open drug sales in public, homeless people sleeping under the stairs at the Heritage Gall or in a baseball dugout.
He said there is also anger over “the lack of services for these people that put them on our streets.”
People also brought up other issues, from meth lab dump sites to offering more for young people to do after school. But homelessness has been a prominent theme.
The Katzie First Nation has also reported transients using the reserve, and “couch surfing” with residents in exchange for narcotics.
The Katzie are partnering with Pitt Meadows in assessing their joint safety and security.
Becker has been taking an SFU course on civic engagement. He has held four meetings in a world cafe format in the Meadows Room at city hall, where about 30 participants talk among themselves, and he picks up their notes.
The subject is the “safety and security web” – which is a term from the report Policing Canada in the 21st Century: New Policing for New Challenges, by the Council of Canadian Academies for the federal government.
Working effectively within and through this web — rather than as isolated entities — will allow policing organizations to better respond to existing and emerging issues.”
Becker said Pitt Meadows lacks services, and often does refer homeless people to facilities in Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam or other neighbouring communities.
“We can’t just put them on a bus to Maple Ridge or Abbotsford, and then say we’ve fixed the problem.”
He said the city will have to decide what resources to locate in Pitt Meadows, what is working well and what needs to be improved.
Coun. Bill Dingwall said the mayor has taken the lead on this issue, but now “the whole rest of council has to be involved and participate.”
He agreed the homeless numbers in Pitt Meadows appear to be increasing.
“The numbers are rising – anecdotally, I know the numbers are rising,” said Dingwall. “It’s clearly something we need to more aware of and address.”
There will be a workshop on March 4 to develop a wider-spread civic engagement program.
The wider-spread civic engagement program will be held at the Katzie Wellness Centre on March 25.