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Leaked document says homeless people attacked city staff in Courtenay

WorkSafe BC reports several “violent incidents” in parking lot part of ongoing issues

A leaked document from WorkSafe BC says unhoused people in the parking lot at city hall attacked city staff.

The WorkSafe BC inspection report from August said three City of Courtenay staff members were victims of violence by unhoused persons. The report also said staff have been subjected to health hazards and break-ins.

“The City of Courtenay Workplace Violence Incident Summary details four incidents of violence towards workers in the last (two years), three of the four are attributed to the unhoused encampment on the city hall property,” reads the report.

“Bylaw inspections are not completed early enough or frequent enough to prevent some unsafe conditions … such as … fleet vehicle break ins, fleet vehicles being urinated and defecated on, attack and threat of violence by homeless person in parking lot, (and) break-in at city hall…”

The City of Courtenay responded to these inspections, stemming back to 2021, and has never been out of compliance with WorkSafe BC, according to director of corporate services Kate O’Connell. The city also pointed out that “violent incidents” may not be what they appear.

The definition of “violent incident” can surprise people, because it can mean as little as yelling.

Despite clearing up the definition, O’Connell did not deny that at least one staff member in the report was physically attacked by a homeless person in the parking lot at city hall.

Previous changes to make city hall safer

In order to reduce the danger posed by homeless encampment on the city hall property, the city has made some adjustments over time.

Listed in the WorkSafe BC report, the city has previously made an effort to improve sight-lines on the property. This was done in various ways, such as by removing shrubs, raising canopies, and installing lights.

Despite these and other changes, “violence against workers (while travelling to and from) the office… continues to be an issue that the City has ranked as a high risk.”

The City of Courtenay has until Oct. 23, 2023 to do a few more changes, but they won’t be big.

O’Connell told the Record the property will not undergo any significant changes as a result of the August WorkSafe report, and that nearly everything has been completed. Still on her list, she said, is a training program.

The internal program at the City of Courtenay teaches staff how to be safer in their travel to and from the office.

According to the director, the upcoming changes will de-stigmatize mental illness and addiction for staff, and their resulting education will make them safer as they come in to work.

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Fence erected at city hall not related, says staff

Last week, the city erected a fence at city hall, which blocked a lot of space that unhoused people used to camp on.

The fence is an annual event to protect the grass, so that it can grow back undisturbed. The grass suffers each year from high foot traffic.

As a response to theories that the fence was a plot to get unhoused people off the property, the city says people have the right to congregate at city hall during the day, just not camp. There will be no future efforts like a fence to prevent homeless from congregating.

A fence was erected at Courtenay city hall, preventing unhoused people from sheltering on the lawn. (Terry Farrell/Comox Valley Record)

Homelessness number one public issue

In the past three years, homelessness increased by more than 100 per cent in Comox Valley, according to the recent point-in-time homeless count.

While numbers grow, unhoused people continue to congregate in the city hall parking lot, directly across the street from the vital homelessness service at the Connect Centre shelter.

City staff may be near to the problem of growing homelessness, but staff members with concerns are not alone in wanting action from the city.

The citizen satisfaction survey, titled “Your Courtenay, Your Voice,” returned last week, showing homelessness was the number-one biggest issue citizens want results on. A representative sample of Courtenay’s residents, designed to mirror the 2021 Census, answered that “homelessness” was the most pressing issue that the city could address to enhance their quality of life in Courtenay.

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Mayor invites people to talk

The Record connected with Mayor Bob Wells to discuss the ongoing concern of homelessness in Courtenay. In light of the public’s survey results, Wells said he urges people to connect with him and share their concerns.

“I do the mayor appointments every week, as well as phone calls that people can schedule,” he said. “I’m always happy to sit down and talk with people.

“If people have concerns, they can contact city hall. They can book an appointment with me and I’m happy to sit down and chat with them.”

According to the mayor, previous conversations about homelessness in Courtenay led the city to introduce the summer RCMP foot patrols. Wells said that’s one example of positive impact through citizens voicing up.

Regarding the WorkSafe BC report, Wells said the health and safety of staff is a number-one priority for the city. He said people should make sure they are reporting everything that makes them feel unsafe.

Wells added the City of Courtenay’s workplace safety program won an award last year.

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Shelters are seen at Maple Park. (Photo submitted)

Connor McDowell

About the Author: Connor McDowell

Started at the Record in May 2023. He studied journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax
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