728 x 90

Chase the Chill chased from front of Town offices

img

The Chase the Chill event has been happening for several years in The Pas, however this year’s event has been the subject of controversy rather than the designed goal of simply helping those in need get some warm winter gear.
Chase the Chill is a movement which has spread to all corners of the globe after originating in the United States with a focus of getting volunteers to knit winter clothing such as scarves, hats, neck warmers and ear warmers that are then left outside for people to come and take. While the winter clothing is available for anyone to take the focus is on helping those who are exposed to the elements with no place to go, such as homeless individuals.
The Pas’ version of Chase the Chill has been ongoing for five years now and on Saturday the volunteers gathered to hang the scarves and hats in the trees and on poles around the Town of The Pas municipal building. The area has been the location the items have been put out at all five years.
By Monday afternoon however they were being asked to remove the items from near the Town’s entrance by Town of The Pas Chief Administrative Officer Randi Salamanowicz, citing concerns over the number of people staying inside the lobby of the Town offices including some who were causing safety concerns for the staff.
“She just asked that I remove them because they were having issues with loiterers in their lobby and thought that the scarves were bringing more people in,” said Shirley Barbeau, organizer for Chase the Chill. “She said it started on Thursday that there were people hanging around and I said well we put them up Saturday. She said we have more people today so if you could remove them it would help us to eliminate the problem.”
“We’ve been having a lot of issues with people coming into our lobby and doing some nasty stuff and I’ve spent, along with my staff, time since Thursday continually chasing them out of here. It got worse in the last couple of days, probably because it’s cold; it’s basically connecting to get them in here. I’m not saying 100 per cent that’s what the problem is but we’re already experiencing a problem,” said Salamanowicz.
Permission was granted on December 4th for Chase the Chill to put the items up by Town staff. Barbeau noted she has never been told there was any issue in past years and called the request “definitely disappointing.”
“I didn’t think that it would cause loitering, I know that people do sit at those benches at the Town office and that’s actually one of the reason that we chose that location but it was also a location that people would drive by and see and it would be more public and out there that they were available,” said Barbeau. “Anyone who likes them or is cold can take them, it’s not specifically one group of people we’re hoping would take them but it’s definitely geared toward people who are in need.”
“It’s called Chase the Chill in The Pas so have it at the Town office seemed obvious to us,” she added.
The Chase the Chill event has grown in the number of items which have been distributed each year and took a sizeable jump this year. Barbeau estimated the number of items nearly doubled from 2016.
“Typically we’ve been going up each year but last year we didn’t crack 60 - I think it was 57- so my goal this year was to get to 60 or 70,” said Barbeau.
Instead, the event caught attention from a lady outside the community who knitted and donated 40 scarves. In total, 108 items were made this year and placed near the Town.
This increase in volume also may have led to the increase in the number of people who were in the Town’s lobby, Salamanowicz opined, noting this was also the first year the items were placed near the Town offices entrance.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think what their cause is is a great idea, I think what they’re doing is amazing but this is not helping us with our issue that we’re having right now,” said Salamanowicz who added that an increase in the number of people in the lobby was what led to the decision to consider Chase the Chill a possible link and ask for the items to be removed from near the entrance to the Town offices.
Barbeau stated that all of the items were removed Tuesday morning including those not near the front door. Only 51 items remained by then, most of which were near the doors and it was decided to take down all of the items and move them to a new location rather than leave a few up near the Town that weren’t in the area of concern identified by Salamanowicz.
Trouble in or near the entrance to the Town from loiterers is nothing new and an uptick is problems was noted by Salamanowicz even prior to Monday. On Thursday and Friday of last week there were also more loiterers inside the building that were dealt with by staff.
“Thursday there was an issue, Friday there were two issues so we had to phone (the police) twice, Monday as soon as that door was open they were in here... and they just kept coming back. Let’s face it, it was quite obvious (what the increase was on Monday) because what changed,” she asked. “By 9:30 (a.m. on Monday) I literally had two of them lying on the floor passed out.”
The loitering is one issue, the aggressive behaviour of some who are loitering is another Salamanowicz stated and that is the main focus of the request to move the items. Salamanowicz admitted it was speculation on if the items proximity to the door was a contributing factor to the increase in the number of people in the lobby on Monday -cold weather and the fact the Friendship Centre which is also in the same building closed their doors that day could also be part of the reasoning- but the goal was to take whatever means to curb the safety concerns for staff.
Salamanowicz gave an example of one scene which played out in recent days.
“They were rolling around fighting in our lobby, two women, they were booted out and then two guys came in and I said ‘no, no, you can’t hang around here’... (the one guy) said ‘we’re want to go in there (the Friendship Centre) and I said the Friendship Centre doesn’t open until later you’ll have to come back... about five minutes he came back, I was still downstairs and I went out to remind him and as I went out the door and here he is right in front of me drinking from a bottle,” recalled Salamanowicz, who added people who have come to the Town offices have reported being threatened by the loiterers as well.
Salamanowicz noted the lobby has also been defecated in and been the location of public drunkenness and public drinking, while staff and patrons alike have been swore at.
“My staff goes through this all day long,” she noted. “I’m worried about the safety of my staff, that’s my number one priority; the safety of our staff and the patrons coming into our establishment.”
That safety concern isn’t isolated to the Town offices. The Pas Friendship Centre which is also accessed through the lobby recently began locking their doors and allowing people in by appointment only due to a recent safety issue which also arose according to the centre’s executive director Renee Kastrukoff.
Salamanowicz noted the RCMP have been called but don’t always respond as that would depend on the number of officers available and if they were busy dealing with other higher priority items at the time. Salamanowicz noted she spoke with the RCMP about the matter recently and was told the Town’s offices are one of 10 different buildings in the community identified as a concern for loitering by the RCMP.
“We call them but they’re so busy. If there’s 10 places like ours yeah, they’re busy,” said Salamanowicz. “What really makes me sad is they’re spending time on that when there could be something really serious going on.”
On Tuesday the number of loiterers had decreased, however Salamanowicz cautioned against saying the decrease was actually due to the fact the Chase the Chill items were removed.
“How do you measure if it worked? Yeah, they took their stuff down and there’s been less people in here today but we’ve also been pushing them out,” said Salamanowicz. “Staff is also on them all the time.”
Barbeau stated the volunteers have all been contacted and efforts are being made to find a new location to put the items up.
“I’ve emailed all of the members that donated this year and let them know what happened... and they’re all kind of brainstorming as to what to do next,” said Barbeau who noted in past years the items are typically all removed from the trees within a matter of two or three days in past years and felt they would have been gone naturally in a short amount of time anyway. “I totally understand that it is their property and they are welcome to say that they don’t want this on their property.”
“It’s a wonderful idea and I commend them for doing it, I think the world of it,” responded Salamanowicz, who noted Town council was made aware of the decision on Monday. “It’s very unfortunate but we’re trying to curb people away from here that don’t need to be here and that’s not a help.”
Salamanowicz added the items aren’t likely to be considered unsightly provided they are removed in short order and wouldn’t be considered a by-law infraction so they can go anywhere else in the community provided the property owner is fine with it. Town property is available for use outside of the front entrance area to the Town’s offices.
Barbeau didn’t believe the decision would negatively impact the Chase the Chill efforts for next winter.
“If it does it’ll fuel us to do more I’d assume. The other purpose is to spark some conversation and for people to give a little at this time of year to those who are a little less fortunate so I can’t see us not doing it, it’s just a matter of us finding a new location and where we’re welcome to put them,” she said.

img
Trent Allen
EDITOR
img