Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron Column: Bylaw officers face complex issues

Robert’s column

There’s no doubt that working as a bylaw officer in Duncan has many challenges.

With the dramatic increase in homelessness and drug-use related issues in the city (which are also being experienced in many other Vancouver Island communities as well it should be said), Duncan’s bylaw officers are increasingly called upon to respond to concerns and complaints relating to homeless encampments, discarded needles, and nuisance properties in the community.

I don’t know how much these people get paid, but whatever it is, I don’t think it’s enough to deal with the complexities and challenges of the job.

Rachel Hastings, Duncan’s manager of building and bylaw services, pointed out to council at a recent meeting that it’s very difficult for the bylaw officers to keep everyone they deal with happy at the same time.

Hastings said bylaw officers are tasked to walk a fine line between managing people’s expectations that bylaw officers can minimize the impacts of social issues to a degree where the community is happy, while dealing with the homeless people on the streets with enough compassion so they can still continue to have conversations and work with them.

“We can’t make this all go away; that’s the hard and fast of the issue,” she told council.

“We can try to minimize the impacts the best we can through programs like the sharps pick-up team, and minimizing the things left on the street. We can try to ensure people have places to go and we can help them get to where they need to go, and we can contact the RCMP when things escalate and they can come and give us the support that is required. We’d like to find a resolution for everyone but, unfortunately, it’s out of our control.”

Working with people with drug and/or mental issues is no easy task, as I discovered myself many years ago.

In the 1980s, I worked in a failing motel on the outskirts of St. John’s, NF.

At the time, hundreds of people with issues like so many street people in Duncan have today were living in boarding houses across the city, with the province picking up the bill.

But an intrepid reporter from one of the local papers wrote a scathing in-depth story about the horrible living conditions they were in and, after the public outcry, the province took them all out of the boarding houses and began temporarily placing them in motels that were willing to take them.

The motel where I worked took 33 and the problems began immediately.

The first thing was that we only had a small staff consisting of waiters, cooks and maids and none of us had any training to deal with people with these kinds of issues.

I realize that it was different time and I hope things are being dealt with differently there now, but I don’t recall any social workers or anyone else with any expertise ever coming to the motel while they were there, which was for several months, to help deal with their issues and concerns.

Added to that was the fact that these 33 people were now living far from the city centre, where they were living before, so there was nowhere for them to go for services, or for anything else for that matter.

And there weren’t any televisions in any of their rooms to keep them occupied, so problems were inevitable.

I remember during that time there were drug overdoses, some deaths and lots of arguments and fights.

We were overwhelmed and many of my co-workers began looking for employment elsewhere, but there were few other jobs at the time.

That was when I decided to go to university and work towards a more comfortable job.

That’s why I can sympathize with Hastings and Duncan’s bylaw officers.

They are tasked to deal with complex issues, but they can only do so much.

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