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Removal of Spirit Square glass panels sparks concern from homeless advocates

The glass panels that cover the stage at Spirit Square in downtown Campbell River are coming down, and it’s sparking concern from homeless advocates.

The removal of the panels was one of the suggestions made by the Downtown Safety Select Committee, and council endorsed the suggestion at its latest meeting.

Over the past four months, the committee was tasked with providing recommendations for improving the downtown core, while also helping to determine how to best use the $225,000 budgeted this year for safety initiatives.

Their goal was to take note of the public’s need for a clean, safe, and usable downtown, without losing sight of the need for patience and compassion for the city’s vulnerable population. They provided ten recommendations in total.

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In a letter to council, Dr. Erika Kellerhals and Dr. Jessie Flear with the Campbell River and District Division of Family Practice say the Safety Committee’s original submission to the city states the panels “…provide a sheltered area that encourages an assembly of individuals and belongings.”

Kellerhals and Flear note there’s no explanation as to why this is an issue: “For our team, having an area of congregation where we can safely reach those least likely to access medical care is of benefit. It is a venue to meet and work on connecting individuals to vital services and options within our community that strive to work on long-term solutions for those with very complex needs,” they say.

“Actions to limit communal spaces targeted at those who are already marginalized, stigmatized, and viewed as a blight if in plain sight, is not the direction we as medical professionals and community members condone.”

However, the Safety Committee says its recommendations are the result of many hours of discussion, analysis, and the gathering of community input.

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“We understand there may be opposition to some of these recommendations (particularly those relating to the Spirit Square covering…), but we believe we have found the balance that the majority of the community is looking for and, accordingly, we firmly stand behind these recommendations,” the Safety Committee adds.

And Mayor Andy Adams says “to be honest, the glass panels really didn’t provide much protection or shelter.”

“What we’re looking at is the removal of that, and in future years look at something that may be a little bit more suitable for protecting the bands and performances that go on in Spirit Square that will be more functional,” he says, adding that “in the meantime, the recommendation of the Safety Committee has been endorsed by council.”

Council endorsed Downtown Safety Select Committee recommendations, funded by the 2021 safety initiatives budget of $225,000, including:

  • Remove Spirit Square stage covering, and consider alternative replacement covering in consultation with the Spirit Square operator, as a future capital project
  • Expand the crime prevention through environmental design grant program (staff report on how to streamline and remove barriers to access program)
  • Landscaping improvements to the BC Hydro Box at 13th Avenue / Shoppers Row
  • Install two garbage cans per block along Shoppers Row and Pier Street
  • Security camera program expansion
  • Continued funding to expand the Get the Point cleanup and peer mentor program
  • Expansion of the infill street-light program in the downtown core

Council also confirmed a commitment to:

  • improve safety and cleanliness in the downtown core through ongoing, annual capital investment in the downtown refresh program
  • join other municipalities in actively lobbying the provincial and federal government to open and fund mental health and addiction facilities in the province, and specifically in Campbell River
  • establish a new Downtown Safety Select Committee in September to review progress and make recommendations to council
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