Reports of harassment downtown continue as the City of North Battleford works to improve economic prospects in the formerly booming area.
Jacey Huebert gave a presentation to council Monday about some of her experiences downtown.
Huebert’s work involves walking downtown every afternoon to a bank. Huebert said she has been “yelled at, called terrible names, chased, and grabbed.” A man once said she had a nice jacket then reached inside of it.
Police and community safety officers drive along 101st Street, but Huebert said she’d like to see more foot patrols, especially during afternoons. Driving by, Huebert said, doesn’t allow officers to experience the things happening on the street.
Huebert also said she’s called police in regard to certain incidents, but said the “people she calls about are often gone by the time police arrive.”
Council and the public are aware of a number of anecdotes of undesirable behaviour downtown. Councillor Len Taylor said RCMP and CSOs know of a group of “downtown regulars.”
“Downtown is in transition,” Taylor said, “and while we’re not there yet as you’re pointing out, there are some transitional things that still need to be done.”
One of the transitions, Taylor said, is the rooming house project on 98th Street.
“One of the reasons for that rooming house is to provide an opportunity for people who are congregating on 101st Street to perhaps be somewhere else with more supports in their life,” Taylor said, “so they aren’t just relying on each other and the streets for their interactions.”
The rooming house is to provide living accommodations for up to eight individuals. Designed to break the cycle of homelessness, the project will also provide supervision and support.
Jackie Kennedy, executive director of the Battlefords Indian and and Métis Friendship Centre, said in August she hopes those living at the house can get the addiction treatment they need and to find jobs.
Some people who lived in the area opposed the location of the rooming house, and attended a city council meeting last year with concerns, among others, about community safety.
Community Safety Officer Ross MacAngus said downtown patrols have increased in 2018 to 270, compared to 160 in 2017, with more patrols taking place in the later part of 2018. MacAngus said CSO efforts to reduce harassment include trying to be proactive during particular days of the month when CSOs tend to get more calls.
Mayor Ryan Bater and some councillors thanked Huebert for bringing the matter to council, with Councillor Kent Lindgren specifically referring to the grabbing incident. Councillor Kelli Hawtin suggested Huebert inform council in six months time to hear feedback.
A panhandling bylaw was before council in 2017 that would have increased the distance people could panhandle in front of places including ATMs, liquor stores and bus stops from 10 to 100 metres. The proposed bylaw was supported by some who had been harassed downtown.
Ultimately, the bylaw didn’t pass. In Oct. 2017, Hawtin made a distinction between being harassed and being asked for money.