There are no short-term solutions to solving the issues in Boitanio Park in Williams Lake.
A Boitanio Park safety group was created in late 2012 that has had a series of meetings with stakeholders to address safety issues in the park, manager of social development Anne Burrill said during a report to council.
“Some really good work has happened over the period of time that we’ve been meeting,” she said.
Three different working groups have tackled three priority areas. One is to do increased outreach into the park to vulnerable people spending time in the park who are struggling with addictions and health issues.
A second group is working through the existing homelessness and housing committee that is chaired by the Canadian Mental Health Association that is doing integrated case planning to link people with community services and help provide supports.
The third group looked at providing a drop-in centre for people who spend time in the park, but that idea has not gone any further.
“It’s a fairly challenging undertaking to develop a new service in the community,” Burrill.
During the next few months, the group will look at various housing models because the cost of providing housing to vulnerable people is considerably less than the cost of providing health care and policing services to homeless people.
“We will also look at a model around intensive wrap around health services. Clients would have access to wrap around services that would address mental health and addiction issues,” Burrill said.
A community survey conducted two years ago identified safety as the number one issue of concern by residents and Boitanio Park was identified as the number one spot where people did not feel safe, Mayor Kerry Cook said.
“All of this work has been done as a result of that and initiation by Insp. Warren Brown last fall.”
Insp. Brown said the park continues to be as busy as it has been in past years.
Between January and the end of June, the RCMP had exactly the same number of prisoners as during the same period in 2012.
“Although not broken down into locations for arrest, I would suggest that the numbers arrested for alcohol related matters at or near the park are similar to previous years,” Brown explained.
During the summer, RCMP increase park patrols because there are youth programs in the park.
“I believe the park is a safe place during the day, however I would still encourage people to respect one another and refrain from illegal activity including drinking alcohol in the park,” Brown said.
Coun. Surinderpal Rathor focused on a recommendation in Burrill’s report for increased lighting in the park and asked if the city is following the recommendation and can install lights sooner rather than waiting until the fall.
Community policing co-ordinator Dave Dixon is looking at crime prevention initiatives through environmental design principles, Burrill responded.
“We’ll be looking at the park for potential location of lights and location for potential emergency call buttons. You’re absolutely right that we need to move forward on them, but we need to do it in a strategic way.”
Aside from safety concerns, the park is a gathering place when it’s not used for abuse, and a number of people from outlying communities to meet, Coun. Laurie Walters said.
“There are some positive gatherings happening there,” she added.
Coun. Danica Hughes thanked Burrill for the report.
“Something that struck me with it was that people in the park are actually welcoming the walk throughs and are not opposed to it, which kind of surprised me. That surprised me because I thought they would want as little attention as possible.”
It made her realize they need protection too, Hughes said.
“I am so relieved our community is caring about these people,” she added.
She recalled a story Last year in the summer when she was talking with someone who was frequently in the park. Hughes noticed something had happened to the person’s face.
“This person was sleeping in the park and someone came up to this person and kicked them in the face and broke their jaw,” Hughes recalled. “It’s important we protect these people too, it’s not just about tax paying residents.”
Cook also praised CMHA homelessness worker Wayne Lucier for his dedication to the community.
“He does extraordinary work and makes inroads,” Cook said. “What became apparent is it’s not an easy fix and we have systemic issues in the park.”