Cleanup order strikes controversy

Makeshift shelters are set up by some of the homeless people who seek refuge on property where a clean-up order was issued. It has sparked a homelessness controversy.

It started as a trash issue, but grew to be about the homelessness

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

A bylaw appeal meeting that was supposed to be about cleaning garbage has highlighted the ongoing issue of homelessness in Peace River.

Homelessness advocates Brent Taylor and Trudy Plaizier have been trying to get support for their prototype standalone mini homeless shelters since 2016. Their non-profit PurpleRung Foundation built the shelters, and they have since tried to get zoning and other approvals to use the shelters without success.

However, the homeless population has continued to gather on their downtown property, garnering complaints on social media and from neighbours as well as the attention of the Town’s bylaw enforcement.

Taylor and Plaizier have been issued three different bylaw orders demanding they remove their prototype temporary homeless shelters and clean up their property. They are now fighting what they say is unfair targeting actually meant to force them to stop allowing homeless people sanctuary.

The pair have cleaned a large amount of garbage from the property after being issued a cleanup order of the “untidy and unsightly premises” on Aug. 30, but they still appealed the order in a special council meeting on Oct. 7.

They say while they are working hard to keep the property clean, they are not responsible for the actions of the homeless people who are actually making the mess, and do not want to turn homeless people away.

“PurpleRung doesn’t condone sleeping rough,” Taylor says. “We are constantly on the defensive for the fact people are sleeping rough and we are not chasing them away.

“This and other orders are quite targeted and we need to change the conversation,” he adds

“Let’s change the conversation back to what PurpleRung stands for, solutions to address homelessness that includes a barrier free discreet shelter with access to addictions and mental health services, transitional shelters and affordable housing alternatives.”

Neighbours who spoke at the appeal say they only care about the mess.

Dr. Michael Ho of Peace Valley Dental says, “What Brent Taylor is doing is great.”

However, he also says people should not be able to break the law just because of addictions or other problems.

“I have called the cops many, many, many times because of drunk people in that area,” he says. “Also, we see threats, threatening my staff when they come into work.”

Dr. Ho says he doesn’t want clients to think garbage on the property is from his business.

Robert Armstrong, who lives right across from the property in question, says he may not have bought it if he had known he was going to have to keep looking at a mess.

“I have been putting up with it for three years now,” he says, adding he has been “very patient about it.”

“What I don’t understand is, it’s just about the cleanup. It’s been sidetracked way out of what we’re supposed to be talking about,” Armstrong says.

“I go out on my deck and that’s all I see: a little junkyard. It gets messier, then gets cleaned up a little bit. It’s never ending.

“I hope something finally gets done about it and that’s all I have to say,” he concludes.

Nitasha Lake says one of the biggest issues she has is seeing people on the property relieving themselves.

“When I’m seeing males urinating, that’s not something I want to see,” Lake says. “My deck is my property, and lots of times that’s all you see is males peeing everywhere and they’re not being discrete. I don’t want people looking at my parts; I don’t want to see their parts either.”

Plazier says she has spoken with the people on the property about it and they have generally denied the complaints, but that if they do relieve themselves in public she’s not responsible for their actions.

“I will not be accountable for another human being’s bodily functions,” she says.

Plaizier adds if there were accessible public restrooms of some kind, people could use those instead, but they are often denied access to bathrooms nearby. She hopes the Town will consider putting in a dedicated portable toilet, trailer, or some other option.

“Please don’t try to force me to bully them away,” Plaizier says. “Instead of punishing them or punishing me, let’s offer a solution.”

Plaizier believes the real target of the order is the people who have built temporary shelters on the property.

“The order wants us to get rid of the people as if they are trash,” Plaizier says.

Concerned community member Don Barnhardt spoke up on behalf of Plaizier and Taylor, and says he thinks the fact it’s almost exclusively indigenous people on their property means there has to be a cultural problem at play.

“Since we’re talking about reconciliation because of damage done, it seems to me this would be part of reconciliation,” he says.

He wants the Town and local community members to have compassion for those less fortunate.

“Those of us with compassion are the nervous system of the body human. Our hearts are crying out in pain when we see others suffer,” he says.

While some other options have been presented to house the up to 40 people by some counts who are either at risk of homelessness or homeless at any given time in Peace River, nothing has officially opened yet.

Plaizier says she is grateful the warming house and community centre being developed by Sherry Hilton’s PEACE Foundation is close to opening. The PEACE Foundation has applied for a development permit and will be holding an open house at the proposed warming centre on Oct. 17.

If they are successful in getting a permit, at risk people will be able to wash their clothes, have a nap, eat, or use the bathroom at the facility.

However, the new house will not be able to operate as an overnight shelter, meaning it won’t be a total solution.

Taylor and Plaizier have also proposed a new development on their property called Writer’s Block, which would house executive suites, housing, and also have a shelter in a basement “Cave Level.”

After an in-camera session to discuss the cleanup order appeal, the Town passed a motion that the property does represent an unsightly premises. Council included an extension to the cleanup order, giving the owners until Oct. 30 to comply without being fined.

Taylor and Plaizier have also received a stop order demanding they remove the prototype shelters from their property because it is not zoned for temporary shelters. They are appealing that order on Oct. 22.

“The Town forces the conversation to be about clean-up orders, stop orders, and street people behaviour and puts us on the defensive. PurpleRung does not condone homelessness or people occupying downtown Peace River alleys and properties street living, but these backward steps don’t address the real issue of why people become homeless or offer any alternative place for these people to be,” Taylor says.

“PurpleRung has leased a building, designed, constructed and prepared constructive solutions both short and long term for transitional shelters and full purpose-built facility, self funded, while carrying a tremendous debt burden and laid it at the feet of these Town authorities, wrapped in a not for profit foundation.”

PurpleRung is standing firm.

“Meanwhile, as long is there is no acceptable place offered for these homeless people to be, we won’t be forced by the Town to bully them away to scatter and converge on other property. We are frustrated that consequences of street people in Peace River seems to sit squarely on our shoulders and we are being punished with for our humanity. We continue to be at the table unfunded surrounded by salaried officials demanding of us and condemning us for visible homelessness in our town as if we brought them.”

Plaizider says “denying homelessness is outdated, solving homelessness is the work of today’s leaders.”

World Homeless Day was Oct. 10.

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