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UPDATE: Penticton endorses plan to ban sitting on downtown sidewalks during summer months

Penticton endorses plan to ban sitting on downtown sidewalks during summer months

UPDATE:

City council in Penticton has endorsed a plan to ban sitting on certain sidewalks in the downtown core during spring and summer.

On Tuesday afternoon, council voted 5-2 in favour of a staff recommendation to amend the Good Neighbour Bylaw, making it illegal to sit or lie on certain streets from May to September 30.

The affected streets would be the 100-300 block of Ellis Street, the 200-400 block of Martin Street and 100-700 block of Main Street.

Violators could face a $100 fine.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Homeless advocates in B.C. are sounding the alarm over proposed bylaw amendments in Penticton that would make it illegal to sit or lie on some public sidewalks downtown.

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Kristine Shepherd said the homeless are being targeted by the proposed bylaw changes, which could net someone a $100 fine for obstructing a sidewalk.

“They’re specifically targeting one group of people,” Shepherd said on Tuesday.

“There are things that we could have done before we got to this point that the city, the council, they voted down. We should have safe consumption sites.”

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In a staff report to be reviewed by city council on Tuesday, bylaw services supervisor Tina Siebert said the city has received an increase in complaints about social nuisances downtown.

The issues include smoking near doorway entrances, obstruction of sidewalks for the purpose of loitering or panhandling, camping on city sidewalks, abandoned property in public spaces and people occupying vacant store fronts.

“All detracting from the vibrant and positive business and community environment demanded by our businesses and residents,” Siebert said.

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She recommends the Good Neighbour Bylaw be amended to make it illegal to sit or lie on a sidewalk in the 100-300 block of Ellis Street, 200-400 block of Martin Street and 100-700 block of Main Street, from May 1 to September 30.

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“Over the last couple of years, we’ve had a number of issues around anti-social and inappropriate behaviour in and around downtown,” said development services manager Anthony Haddad.

“What these bylaw amendments are proposed to put in place will support our businesses, support the tourists and residents who come downtown, and try to make it as positive place for our community.”

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Homeless advocate Kona Sankey calls the proposed bylaw changes discriminatory.

“To say somebody can’t sit on the sidewalk, whether they need to catch their breath, take a rest, or even just kids having fun on the sidewalk, it is really kind of concerning that they would be go far to say that people can’t sit whatsoever,” she said.

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Anna Cooper, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, says the proposed bylaw could face a Charter challenge.

“I think that this bylaw could both potentially violate the B.C. Human Rights Code and the Charter. We know that this bylaw will disproportionately impact homeless people,” she told Global Okanagan.

“This bylaw is constitutionally suspect and also suspect on a human rights level.”

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However, Haddad said the proposal has been vetted by outside legal counsel.

“There is no charter issue from our perspective. We’ve looked at really minimizing the impact on the downtown community. It’s under 2.5 per cent of the public sidewalks that we have in the community that are impacted by the proposed changes,” he said.

Councillors will also be asked to endorse a plan that would allow public usage of public space downtown for pop-up events, musical performances, beautification projects and vending opportunities.

“Projects could apply to spaces along the public sidewalk, out the front of vacant storefronts, Nanaimo Square, Gyro Park, vacant parking lots and other spaces in and around the downtown,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Shepherd said she feels the proposed bylaw amendments are intended to force her out of her usual spot in Nanaimo Square, where she feeds the homeless on Monday nights.

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The city has licensed out part of the space to the neighbouring bakery, and the square could soon be up for grabs for people to lease out and host events under the new proposed bylaw.

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“I think they are going to try very hard to rent it out to push us out, and that’s why I thought it was important to find a new location before that happened,” she said.

“As of June 3, we will be moving up Main Street to Sunrise Pharmacy. Joelle and Donna offered their space there. We are moving because it is in the best interest of everybody.”

City council will review the proposed bylaw amendments at the regular council meeting at 1 p.m.