- Effective policing, targeting specific times and areas – having police on the beat, at the right time and in the right areas
- Be tough on those who repeatedly participate in any criminal behavior
- Maintain a supply of subsidized housing, through strong relationships with BC Housing, so we can enforce our bylaws and comply with BC Court decisions
- Get funding for programs that address mental health / addiction issues, by forging and maintaining strong relationships with Fraser Health
- Offer shelter, help and support for those people who want and accept shelter, help and support
Crime and Public Safety.
When I discuss “crime” with local residents, I often hear the same thing – “Get the police to lock them up” and “Put them on a bus and ship them out”. When I dig deeper, I find out that most often, people are referring to our homeless population. These responses are knee-jerk reactions to the situation our whole region is experiencing right now.
We need a policy. We can say “We don’t want a policy regarding homelessness.” If we agree to do that, then that is our policy. Our policy is “No Policy”. That is not going to help anyone. It certainly isn’t going to help our downtown businesses. I think we all agree that we need a policy on homelessness, and no matter what policy we decide to choose, there will be hiccups. Any policy we choose is not going to work perfectly. It will not work for everyone, all of the time. We need a policy that is enforceable and practical.
We can get more police, but that will come at a significant cost, and it will only make a marginal difference. For example, it costs the city about $180,000 per police officer. That is the contract rate between the RCMP and the city. If we factor in different work shifts, vacation leave, sick leave, mat leave, etc, you need 3.5 new officers to have one extra police officer on the beat, at all times. We need to spend $630,000 per year, to have one extra police officer on the ground, at all times.
The police are overwhelmed and I know why. I recently had a 4 x 4 election sign up, in an area between 5 corners and Chilliwack Senior Secondary. It was probably not the best place for a sign. I received daily calls, telling me that this sign was vandalized. I saw myself with a beard, moustache, horns, etc. Sort of funny, but not if it is your sign.
I did not want to run around and maintain signs during the day, when traffic was heavy, so I got into the habit of getting up at 4:00 in the morning, to manage signs for an hour. When I worked on that downtown sign at 4:00 in the morning, it blew my mind. There are 50 – 60 people on that stretch of road, walking aimlessly around. They have nothing to do, nowhere to go, at 4:00 in the morning. I did this for 3 weeks, and I saw the same thing every morning.
However, it is not illegal to be homeless, and we cannot stop the migration of people within our country. Even if it was, there is only so much capacity in our prison system. Recent BC court decisions do not allow us to enforce our bylaws, unless we can offer our homeless other housing options. So, unless we have housing options for our homeless, we better get used to seeing homeless people hanging out in our parks and sleeping in shop doorways.
Once we factor these realities into the equation, then we need to realize that this is not an easy solution. If addressing homelessness was easy, it would have been done already, since we have seen a steady increase in our homeless numbers over the last 8 years.
The real solutions require us to dig deep, look at the root causes, and collaborate with multiple organizations. Hard stuff, but necessary.
All our citizens know that the property crime in Chilliwack is unrelenting. All our neighbourhoods are affected. Rural neighbourhoods are also affected. Programs like Agri-Watch, Crime-stoppers, Block-Watch, and Citizens-on-Patrol are great tools led by the community. More police, police on bikes, and satellite offices, like Chilliwack Crime Prevention Society, will also help. While these are solutions for a specific time and place, they don’t eliminate crime. They shift the crime away to a different time, and to a different neighbourhood.
A large part of the criminal behavior in our city is being pushed by drug dealers. These are the real guys that we should be tough on. Addictions need to be fed, and the only solution is to break the addiction. Many of the addicts have no family and friends for support, struggle with mental health issues, and the downward spiral leads to homelessness. To a large degree, these 3 issues (crime, mental health, and homelessness) are linked.
To deal with crime, we need police and an effective justice system. To deal with mental health issues, we need connections, funding, staff, and programs from Fraser Health. To deal with homelessness, we need strong connections to get funding from BC Housing, CMHC, and other non-profit providers of subsidized housing. All three are important, and to solve the problem, all three must be done in conjunction.
A certain percentage of our homeless population is engaged in property crime. There are several challenges with addressing this issue. One of the challenges, is that Chilliwack currently has between 150 – 300 homeless people, depending on how one defines “homeless”. Identifying those that are engaged in criminal activity is difficult. Another challenge is that our justice system is over-whelmed, and property crime is not seen as a top priority. There are multiple times when police catch a repeat offender, and within days that person is released back into the community, re-offending.
Our city has little influence over the justice system. But our city can (and does) have influence over “homelessness”. The main source of funding to address “homelessness” is BC Housing, although CMHC and non-profit organizations are also large contributors. BC Housing is responsible for distributing and administrating subsidized housing in BC. BC Housing wants to drop money into “fertile ground.” If the homework has been done, the land is available, harm-reduction services are available, the city is behind it, and an organization is ready to manage it, then it is an easier decision for BC Housing to allocate funds our way, once more funding becomes available.
Our city council has done a good job of securing funding from BC Housing, keeping the lines of communication open and maintaining relationships. These connections, with both the previous Liberal government and the current NDP government, have secured funding for roughly 150 units (Trader’s Inn, Trethewey, Ruth and Naomi’s, Salvation Army, Cyrus Center). This increase in the supply of our subsidized housing, coupled with provincial funding through Fraser Health for programs to help get the homeless, safe, stabilized and back on their feet.
“Housing First” is a concept that produces results. If we can meet a person’s basic human needs (food, clothing, and shelter), then the potential for criminal behavior is minimized. Marginalized people who have shelter can buy groceries and preserve those groceries in a fridge, keep their medication safe, and treat wounds in a safe environment. Instead of their situation getting worse every day, there is potential that their situation can get better every day. The catalyst here is “shelter”. Without “shelter”, you are not buying groceries, the chance of misplacing or losing medication is significantly higher, and there is no safe environment. There is no potential of your situation getting better every day.
When we have housing options, then we can reach out and offer shelter for those people who want it and will accept it. When we have support from Fraser Health for programs to treat mental health and /or addictions, then we can offer this support to those people who want it and will accept it.
Once we find shelter and support for those who will accept it, then it is easier to identify those who wish to continue with their criminal behavior. We need to be tough on those who continue to be engaged in criminal behavior, and let them know that we have had enough. That we will no longer tolerate stealing, vandalism and open drug use.
We do not want to become a magnet for the region’s homeless. We should do our part, but we also need to ensure that other communities in the Lower Mainland are doing their part. We should our part, on an average, per-capita basis, compared to the other communities in the Lower Mainland, Southern Vancouver Island, and Okanagan.
Extra police is always a good way to tackle crime. Having enough boots on the ground during peak times of criminal activity is a good method of deterrence. Offering shelter for our homeless that want shelter, and offering programs and support for those that want help and support, will allow the police to focus on those wish to continue with their criminal behavior. This is a key component in reducing crime and increasing public safety.