Opera music blaring outside Prince George drop-in space used as 'cruel' deterrent, say outreach workers
The 3-minute clip has been playing 24/7 near a downtown outreach centre and safe consumption site
A piece of opera music that's being blasted on repeat around the clock outside a drop-in space and safe consumption site in downtown Prince George, B.C., is being called "cruel" by outreach workers in the community.
The issue was first raised by Chantale Laferriere, a social work student and volunteer who noticed the music while delivering meals to homeless people at the Fire Pit — a drop-in centre across the street from the city's courthouse and next to a safe consumption site run by Northern Health.
Laferriere says the same three-minute clip has been blasting around the clock for days in what she believes is an attempt to drive away the people who gather in the area to access services.
"Just the most loud blaring operatic crescendo on repeat. It was hard to even hear my own thoughts," she told CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton. "I felt let down that these people are just existing and living here and they're marginalized, and that they're being treated as if they're inhibiting business or they're trying to be driven away from the very services that they require.
"I can't think of any [reason] other than cruelty."
WATCH | Repetitive opera music blaring at Prince George drop-in centre:
"Sometimes it can be irritating to the point you have to walk away," said Robert Gordon, one of the people who congregates outside the Fire Pit for services.
But he also said the music is more of an annoyance than a deterrent for people who need to use the safe consumption site nearby.
"The substance drives people to use, and they'll do anything to get it … I don't think opera's going to stop it," Gordon said.
Positive Living North — the non-profit organization that runs the Fire Pit and provides services ranging from harm reduction to nutritional support — says it found out about the noise hazard on Monday.
The organization says it is not responsible for playing the music and cannot control it.
"It's really disheartening to hear," said Nicole West, the organization's program manager and executive assistant at Positive Living North. "We hope to stop the music because we know that it's not helping … the people [who] still need to access the services downtown."
Majestic Management, the property management company for the drop-in centre, declined to comment.
The building is far from the only one playing loud music on the streets of Prince George in an attempt to drive away loiterers. The practice has been picked up at businesses ranging from salons to fast food chains, including the downtown McDonald's and Tim Hortons.
The move also comes as businesses in the area are expressing concerns about growing homeless camps, feces and garbage left in the street and open drug use.
Fallon Moreland is co-owner of the White Goose Bistro, a restaurant close to the Fire Pit that regularly serves free meals to people in need. She said over the past year she has started to fear for her safety for the first time in more than a decade of working downtown, as more people congregate outside her business and engage in open drug use.
"I ask them very politely to move away from the front of the restaurant and they'll get mad," she said. "Whereas in the past they were very polite."
Moreland says she's been threatened by people coming in to her restaurant demanding water, and she's witnessed fires on the sidewalk and people using the back alley as a bathroom.
She said she has mixed feelings about what needs to be done because she wants people to be able to access support, but she's also worried about the impact the increased activity is having on customers and other businesses.
Prince George has been one of the cities hardest hit by the opioid crisis, with the Northern Health region recording the highest overdose death rate per capita in the province.
Mayor Lyn Hall says these overlapping issues are precisely why he's been working with Northern Health and B.C. Housing to try to bring more supportive housing projects to the city.
"I mean, I'm a realist about this, the issue has increased drastically," he said. "That's why I feel so strongly about this integrated health model [of housing and wraparound services]."
Hall said he hasn't heard the opera music clip around the Fire Pit and he's not sure how the city bylaw applies to the noise hazard, but is certain the drop-in centre impacts downtown businesses and there will be no quick fix.
"How can we put in measures to help folks that are suffering from mental illness, opioid addiction?"
Tap the link below to hear Chantale Laferriere's interview on Radio West:
With files from Radio West, Betsy Trumpener, Andrew Kurjata and Christine Coulter