Well-known Penticton homeless man Paul Braun’s legal counsel is calling out what he is referring to as the city’s “war on the homeless,” after taking Braun to court over panhandling in the Main Street breezeway. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News)

Lawyer takes aim at City of Penticton’s ‘war on the homeless’

Defence lawyer Paul Varga is on the offensive against city hall for taking Paul Braun to court

The defence in a legal battle between the City of Penticton and a well-known street person is going on the offensive, calling the city’s approach a “war on the homeless.”

City hall staff handed Paul Braun a court summons last month, after months of $100-plus tickets for obstructing the breezeway between Main Street and the eastern alleyway.

Related: City of Penticton taking homeless man to court

“He’s there because, as you can gather, he doesn’t have a lot,” said lawyer Paul Varga, who has taken on Braun’s case.

Varga said he doesn’t know Braun, beyond seeing him at his usual perch on Main Street at the corner of the breezeway, noting he is “always polite, he’s always friendly, he’s always warm and generous with his comments.”

“The first sort of notice I saw that the city was targeting Mr. Braun was when they placed that kindness meter out in front of his typical, his usual spot,” Varga said.

“Why is it there? Why not anywhere else in the city?” he asked. Asked why he thinks the meter is there, he said: “I’m not going to answer that question That’s a question the city should answer. They’re the ones who placed it there. Why is that meter there? You can figure that one out.”

Related: Kindness meter in operation

After that, Varga said he saw Braun getting tickets from bylaw, and people took the tickets from Braun, taking them to city hall to challenge them.

“I’d love to speak to those people, to see what the city told them when they took the tickets down to city hall and complained about a person of Paul’s means being ticketed with a $110 ticket,” Varga said.

“And at the end of fall, the city held their homelessness forum. How many homeless people were asked to attend that forum? … I can tell you that Paul wasn’t invited. And Paul tells me that at least another person of the public who went there to attend was asked to leave because it wasn’t open to the public.”

Related: Homeless Penticton man receives multiple tickets

Chief administrative officer Peter Weeber did not respond to a request for comment by publication time Thursday, but the city has regularly defended its track record on homelessness efforts.

In a response to a Western News story on the city’s housing crisis, the city noted a number of projects the city has approved, including the Fairhaven social housing project at the former Bel-Air Motel. As well as the Compass Court housing project coming up at the former Super 8 Motel.

Related: City must ‘atone’ for its part in housing crisis: city planner

“The city is taking the need for affordable housing very seriously and many of the recommendations in the study are already being implemented, starting with the need to increase the supply of rental housing and the need to work with the city’s various not-for-profit housing providers and B.C. Housing to support the homeless,” the October article reads.

But Varga has a different view of the city’s tack on homelessness.

“It seems to me it is a war on the homeless, not a campaign to assist homelessness, or a war on homelessness itself. Rather than attacking the circumstances and the conditions that lead to homelessness, they’re attacking the people who are suffering from that condition,” Varga said.

“The city says they need to have multi-levels of their strategy about homelessness, but it seems to me the one that has the least amount of Christmas spirit is the one that sees a single person targeted and ticketed, and ticketed over and over again, when they know there’s no chance of paying the fine, just to try and prove a point to everyone else.”

Related: Council investigating fencing Gyro Park Bandshell

Braun has managed to get a space at one of the former motel housing projects in the city, at least for the winter, but Varga said he didn’t believe that changed Braun’s position in life.

“Their rents are still higher than the shelter portion of a disability pension. So he’s got to dip into the everything-else fund to pay the rent,” Varga said. “It doesn’t go very far. It does not at all. It certainly doesn’t allow him to pay an $880 fine to the city.”

Braun has been charged with eight counts of contraventions of the city’s Good Neighbour Bylaw, and in November bylaw supervisor Tina Siebert said Braun “feels so entitled to ‘his spot’ that he intimidated and scared off another person who wanted to sit on ‘his spot.’”

“Mr. Braun is a persistent and repeat offender of the bylaw by being situated within 10 metres of the entrance to a pedestrian walkway on Main Street,” Siebert said at the time. “This is not the first, second or third offence by Mr. Braun. The city has complaints or tickets for 19 offences over three years.”

Varga said when he ran into Braun after he got the ticket, Braun was losing sleep over the matter, which Varga said could incur further fines than the $880 he owes the city and potentially even incarceration.

“I happened to be walking by just about the same time he’s getting it, and so he looked, well, distraught,” Varga said. “(He) asked for my help and I gave it.”

Wednesday was the first court appearance for the matter, with the next appearance set for Dec. 20 in front of the judicial case manager to fix a date to go in front of a judge to enter a plea.

Varga said he has had communications with the city’s legal counsel, but is unable to go into details of what was said.


@dustinrgodfrey

dustin.godfrey@pentictonwesternnews.com

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