Campbell River will remove the stage covering at Spirit Square as part of a number of changes to downtown intended to make it safer and more welcoming for everyone.
The city voted at their April 12 meeting to approve some of the recommendations made by the Downtown Safety Select Committee and defer others to a later meeting so that council could have a more in-depth look at them.
Council is moving forward with the controversial recommendation of removing the glass stage covering at Spirit Square while considering an alternative covering as a future capital project.
The stage covering at Spirit Square got the most attention from councillors, with points made about the effectiveness of removing the glass as well as the original intent of the covering.
Coun. Claire Moglove spoke on it first, saying that “This is a way to deter people who are considered to be undesirable from our Spirit Square area who are seeking shelter from the cold, wind and rain. I feel very strongly that to penalize and do something that will make people’s lives more difficult and more unfortunate… is really not the way we should be going.”
“If we had an alternative so that people could shelter… that would be one thing. But to simply say that we’re going to not have this available to people… it is mean-spirited in my opinion,” she continued. “As a society, we live in one of the richest countries in the world. If we can’t take care of people who are less fortunate to us, we have a lot to answer for.”
However, councillors Ron Kerr and Charlie Cornfield, who were involved in the initial planning of Spirit Square, said that the covering was never intended to provide shelter, and that, as Coun. Cornfield said, “the idea was to protect concerts from the rain.”
“There was definitely a reason why we did not put a roof on the stage at that point. It was left open. The reason was that any community that had a place that had a roof on it became a gathering place year-round for people,” Kerr added. “That was not the use that was envisioned for the stage area at Spirit Square.”
In early April, the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness wrote a letter to council calling the recommendations “mean-spirited.” Some councillors took the opportunity on April 12 to respond to those comments.
Coun. Kerr said that “I think thinking it is OK to leave people out there in the square…but to not want them there is mean-spirited, that’s a total twist of the intent. I believe anybody’s intent on this issue is to have a location for them to go, but that is not the place.”
“We all recognize the need for long-term permanent funding for a … warming centre with showers, a meal service, laundry facilities, cart storage and … with counselling services,” added Adams.
Council will also expand the crime prevention through environmental design program, while looking at ways to streamline and remove barriers to access that program.
Other recommendations approved include improving the landscaping at some locations, installing more garbage cans downtown, expanding the security camera program and the infill street light program and continuing to fund the Get the Point clean up and peer mentorship program.
“I just want to make a comment on how awesome this program is and I’m fully supportive of the funding to have it continue and expand,” said Mayor Andy Adams on the Get the Point program.
Council reaffirmed its commitment to safety and cleanliness in the downtown area, will lobby the province to open mental health and addiction facilities and to re-establish the Downtown Safety Select Committee with the same members in the fall to review the progress made.