Trail City Council held a special round-table Governance and Operations Committee meeting in an effort to take the downtown core back.
Recent confrontations between downtown businesses and homeless persons prompted council to meet with Trail and Greater District RCMP on Monday, Apr. 19 and pass a series of motions to take action.
“This is a very challenging time for our community,” said Trail Mayor Lisa Pasin. “We just passed the first year of COVID, and now we have an escalating housing, mental health, and opioid crisis happening in our midst.
“This situation is trying on everyone, and many people have just had enough, and they feel hopeless.”
Council heard recommendations from RCMP Cst. Sherri Karn who said that Trail has seen a rise in its vulnerable population, many of whom endure homelessness, substance abuse and mental health illnesses.
Yet, many are not from Trail. In the West Kootenay, people from communities like Nelson, Castlegar or Kaslo come to Trail to receive post-treatment care at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital’s Daily Pavilion and/or the Kiro Wellness Centre, explained Karn.
They often seek refuge in La Nina, Trail’s extreme weather shelter, close to a number of downtown businesses, and are unable or unwilling to leave.
“Our call volume to the downtown area has increased due to the warmer weather,” said Karn. “Over the last two weeks we’ve been called a lot more for mental health issues pertaining to the alley and the shelter.”
While RCMP have often asked for patience from the community, this time Karn suggested the city take action, starting with improved lighting in Trail alleyways and installing cameras to help reduce crime.
“A lot of our suspected drug activity and money exchanges are happening in that alley, they won’t happen if there’s cameras present,” said Karn.
Other initiatives include relocating dumpsters in the alley and washing the alleys daily to remove the waste, debris and associated odours left behind.
For public works director Chris McIsaac, lighting and cameras are costly, and the most immediate and beneficial response included maintenance and sanitization.
“The biggest thing we can do to support the businesses downtown is the additional level of service for the flushing and sweeping of the alleys, so that they are cleaned on a daily basis,” he said.
Counc. Carol Dobie made a motion to send letters to Interior Health and support agencies to incorporate safe injection sites, which have also been recommended by Moms Stop the Harm and Rural Empowered Drug Users Network (REDUN).
Safe injection sites ensure drugs are tested and safe, and would reduce the presence of discarded syringes and needles and other paraphernalia in the downtown alleys and other public areas.
In separate motions, council directed staff to look into the feasibility of installing lighting and security cameras, in addition to costs for painting over graffiti.
The city requested information from the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary on the public washroom that is planned for the downtown transit exchange.
They passed a motion to boost efforts to lobby the provincial government to increase funding and attention to the homeless and substance abuse, and meet publicly with Minister Katrine Conroy to address the crises.
Council asked staff to investigate the temporary relocation of the dumpsters in the alley behind the homeless shelter, and also pledged to maintain communication with downtown businesses regarding their actions, while inviting input.
For committee chair Sandy Santori, the motions were constructive, yet may be difficult to realize, particularly without provincial aid.
“If post-care is an issue, then here’s a chance for some lobbying of government to provide post-care, say at the hospital in Nelson, some in Castlegar. We need to keep lobbying for funds from the provincial government.”
And providing assistance to downtown business owners and staff, already hit hard by the pandemic, should be a priority, he added.
“We need to move the ones that are behind the Bank of Montreal and The Colander, that whole strip. They (the businesses) have been putting up with this for well over a year.
“It’s a public safety issue for them, their employees are afraid to go outside and take out the garbage.
“I mean how much can a business endure?”