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New trespassing initiative will support businesses, not criminalize homeless: city councillor

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Jan 23, 2021 at 7:08 pm PDT

A woman walks past a man sleeping on the street in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday, February 21, 2017. Cities struggling to house their homeless are asking the federal Liberals to rethink the government's cornerstone homelessness program amid concerns about burdensome reporting requirements and inadequate funding models.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Backlash is growing against a new police trespassing initiative being used to move the homeless away from storefronts – but at least one Vancouver city councillor is suggesting people give the program a chance.

The Trespass Prevention Program authorizes Vancouver police to remove homeless people who set up encampments outside storefronts without the need for an initial complaint.

Business owners simply need to sign up beforehand, which allows police to move homeless people from their storefronts at any time.

Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry says the increasing use of the system should be given time to take effect.

“I don’t think this is a bad initiative,” said Fry. “I think it’s how it’s implemented that is going to be the test of its merit.”

“At the end of the day, this is a standing British Columbia law: the B.C. Trespass Act. So this isn’t something that the VPD have created as law. Their job is to enforce the law and what they’re doing here is a proactive approach.”

But housing advocates are increasingly decrying the program, describing it both as dangerous and further criminalizing the poor.

Fry says the tool is a “response to legitimate challenges” faced by some business owners who deal with disruptive and aggressive behaviour from the city’s homeless population.

The city councillor says that if used properly – to support businesses rather than criminalize people – the initiative could work hand in hand with outreach programs as well as health and housing services.

Fry also says the province is committed to creating a navigation center to help vulnerable people get the services they are looking for.

“Opportunity could avail itself to have maybe a dual approach,” he said. “So hopefully this can be operated in tandem with some kind of health component that maybe has seen an outreach of a street nurse or a social worker or somebody who can maybe assess where those people need to go.”

The program was originally launched to help ESL business owners in Chinatown who might not call due to language concerns.

“We see language barrier from some of the shopkeepers and so this is an opportunity for them to more assertively deal with some of the street disorder that they weren’t equipped to deal with,” said Fry.