British Columbia

Prince George municipal report suggests looking back a century for answers to current social issues

A financial report from the City of Prince George suggests looking to the establishment of municipal fire departments for guidance on how to handle the current addiction and housing crises facing Canadian communities.

Report says housing and addiction crises may not be solved, but can be better managed

The City of Prince George is considering a tax increase to pay for additional patrols of police officers downtown. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A financial report from the City of Prince George suggests looking to the establishment of municipal fire departments for guidance on how to handle the addiction and housing crises facing many B.C. communities.

The advice is contained within a briefing note given to the city's finance and audit committee Monday, presenting councillors with options on how to manage a perceived rise in social problems in and around the downtown core.

"The present social problems, namely the opioid crisis and its related impacts, are complex and arguably unresolvable in the short run," the memo reads. "Thus, it may be worthwhile to reframe the challenge into a long run problem to manage rather than a project to conclude."

The report suggests looking back to when cities were tackling the complex and deadly problem of structural fires in wooden buildings in the early 20th century for guidance on how to manage current social problems. 

Over the years, communities developed better ways to both prevent and respond to fires, adding building inspectors and emergency 911 services to the services provided by city hall. As a result, fires have not been "solved" but "now occur at a very low rate of incidence to a level of societal acceptance," the report explains.

It then argues cities may be at the point where they need to create an "Emergency Support Service" department to better manage the problems being seen today, while warning that such a solution would require dedicated, long-term resources and, most likely, higher taxes.

A harm reduction sticker on a lamp post in downtown Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall said he feels his city is already partway down that path, having reallocated $1.7 million over the past year in response to problems in the downtown, ranging from people with mental health problems to those without a place to live.

 "We took that on knowing full well that we had to take that lead, and try and put that social safety net in place," he said.

But, he added, he's not sure the city can continue to add services without more support from other levels of government.

"We require other jurisdictions to come to the table, and come with us on this journey we're on," he said.

The city is considering a tax increase of up to 4.2 per cent to pay for a suite of new services, including additional downtown police patrols, more bylaw officers and increased support for social service providers. The budget will be set in the first quarter of 2020.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

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