The Mirror is asking the candidates to answer three questions on key issues. Question No. 1 is…
1. What should the city do to deal with people living on the streets in downtown Campbell River and the associated inappropriate behaviour?
GROUP 2 OF CANDIDATES (GROUP 1 available at this link)
To me this is two questions: one about people who are unhoused, and one about criminal behaviour. I answer them separately. First, I believe everyone shares a common vision for our city, where no one lives unhoused. If we keep that common goal in focus, we can work collaboratively to find the best solutions to house people.
Those solutions should be based on the best available evidence. Numerous reports are available that describe Best Practices and successful projects in other communities. Those projects have in common that housing people is an essential first step. If elected, I work with the Coalition to End Homelessness and other social service providers to help to implement a collaborative action plan to house people.
A first action should be to create temporary shelter, with basic human services in place, like what Comox, Victoria, Duncan and Port Alberni are already implementing with shipping containers. We have a unique Campbell River solution in the form of the “Turtle Pods,” or portable sleeping pods that could be expanded. We need to support a safe location to shelter people now.
Second action is to replicate successful programs. Q’waksem Place has 50 second-stage housing units, helping people to develop life skills and become productive citizens. But the waitlist is long. A new facility on Willis Road adds 20 treatment beds and 36 more 2nd stage units, which will help, but more is needed. Housing people costs less and improves lives.
At the foundation of any action must be respect for human rights. I want to live in a community that unites with a spirit of caring. I want vulnerable people IN our community, where they are connected to supports, able to participate in community activities, feel supported in their journey to overcome trauma and can become productive citizens. I acknowledge that intergenerational trauma that is at the heart of homelessness in our community. While I can’t make that shameful history disappear, I want to carry some of that pain, to ensure those who have been damaged by the abuses at residential schools and in colonial systems are supported to move forward. I am not afraid to go downtown. I volunteer at Hem’aelas Kitchen. I encourage people to say hello to all people downtown and pause to think what their stories might be. Fear is dissolved by understanding.
With respect to “inappropriate behaviour,” the crime that downtown businesses have experienced in the past years is unacceptable. We know the bulk of criminal activity is due to a small number of repeat offenders. Tools to manage such offenders had been virtually eliminated. Community policing is strained due to severe staffing shortage at our local detachment, where the city contract is for 47 officers and we have 35. But, the government-commissioned report released Sept. 21 led to immediate action by the province, including bringing back the “prolific offender management program.” This change brings hope. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to support our downtown businesses.
I will answer this as two separate questions because inappropriate behavior is not exclusive to people experiencing homelessness.
I believe everyone has the right to feel safe wherever we are in the community. Inappropriate behavior can range from public intoxication to noise disturbances, from nuisances to criminal acts. We have a range of tools and responses that are applied successfully – from the RCMP and bylaw and from Mental Health and other outreach teams. Not all of them are fully staffed or sufficiently funded to do what we task them to do. And often, what we ask of them is not a priority over more urgent issues. A trauma- and person-informed response demands we address the whole person, while supporting them to stop the inappropriate behavior. Twenty per cent of any group creates 80 per cent of the outcomes. We have a newer initiative in The Situation Table that is an appropriate response to behaviors that affect people’s sense of comfort and safety. A situation table is where agencies identify vulnerable individuals who are in crisis or using a lot of services. Then those agencies, including RCMP, Health and social services look at what is available to respond to that particular person. And as that crisis resolves, the table begins with another person. We must address the behaviour, but if we don’t address the causes of it (at least when it’s not criminal) our interventions won’t have lasting effects.
I commit to continue to work hard and long, both as a Shelter and Housing Manager and as a councillor, to bring people to the table to be involved in solutions. Our neighbours experiencing, or at risk for homelessness are the result of 40 years of choices by all levels of government to abdicate their responsibility to ensure everyone is afforded their human right to housing. Each individual has a unique story of how they got where they are, just as I do. I commit to treating every individual with the dignity they deserve by working with the whole community – social services, other levels of government, business and citizens – to provide amenities that most of us take for granted, immediately - amenities like public washrooms. I also support inclusive spaces and activities like the Campbell River Art Gallery art hive and Peer programs. These give people opportunities to engage with, and give back to our community. I have a vision for an inclusive city rather than a segregated one. The Campbell River & District Coalition to End Homelessness has done amazing work in collecting data and information critical to creating a community action plan to end homelessness. The city has a role to play in bringing more people to that table and to provide appropriate support to create and implement that plan. And while we’re at it, we should create a housing plan which will prevent homelessness. I am a strong advocate for planning. If we don’t know where we’re going and what that will take in human and financial resources, it won’t happen.
Downtown is the heart and soul of any community. We must do everything we can to improve security and cleanliness.
There are two aspects to this issue. One is the underlying causes, the second is the symptoms i.e. the associated inappropriate behaviour. Each has different potential solutions which come from different levels of government.
Regarding underlying causes – mental health/substance abuse and poverty – there seems to be consensus amongst candidates that long-term solutions must come from the province. More supportive housing and resources – including recovery beds, complex-care facilities, treatment centres and more affordable social housing. The city can provide land and reduced fees/charges, but long-term solutions are outside our mandate and capacity.
Focused and effective advocacy is very important. Most B.C. cities are experiencing similar issues, and I believe lobbying jointly is more effective than lobbying as a single community. The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) is the lobbying organization for ALL 189 cities/towns/districts in the province. As 2nd Vice President of UBCM, I am at the table with provincial ministers, their staff as well as mayors and councillors from across the Province. This is the most effective lobbying there is.
When the city lobbies on its own, louder is not better. Having facts and figures to back up our requests is key. As the lead spokesperson for council when we lobbied for our new hospital, I always ensured we had data to support our request.
Regarding the associated inappropriate behaviour, I support increased resources for security and cleanup. There are three ways to provide security – RCMP, bylaw and private security – and there are pros/cons to each. Because of the cost of RCMP ($220,000 per officer) and the difficulty in recruiting, I favour a combination of increased bylaw and private security. We currently have two bylaw officers, although budgeted for three. Similar-sized communities – Vernon, Penticton and Langford – have 10 - 14 officers. It is impossible for our two bylaw officers to provide effective security downtown. As for private security, it is more nimble and because it is a partnership with the downtown BIA, it has proven somewhat more successful.
We must also lobby the provincial and federal governments to change the way prolific offenders are dealt with. The “catch and release” system of dealing with prolific offenders must change. But the criminal justice and court system is wholly within provincial and federal jurisdiction, so the city has limited options besides lobbying.
A top priority for downtown is to move the Hama?elas Community Centre and Kwesa Warming Centre. This was one of the main recommendations of the city’s Downtown Safety Committee, but it is extremely difficult for a non-profit group of volunteers to secure alternate premises. At this point, it may be time for the city to step in and purchase a piece of property in the broader downtown area to house these two important community services, perhaps in conjunction with the Food Bank, which is outgrowing its current space.
• Implement and fund our existing Crime Reduction Strategy
Our “Strategy” is a good start in addressing the urgent problem we are facing. It needs updating and we need to create a committee of law enforcement, courts and the listed service, and health providers for this. I would add a representative from a local private security firm providing first-hand information. Collecting data to measure our progress and making that data public is also important.
The existing Crime Reduction Strategy can be found on my campaign FaceBook page Susan Sinnott for CR City Council 2022.
• Involve our local First Nations
Local First Nations’ involvement is vital. Currently the Strategy does not set out a specific role for First Nations. As governments, we have equal interests in dealing with the inappropriate behaviour from the people in our city. Working together, we have a much better chance of success. Moving people from parks and causing problems on our First Nation areas is not solving the problem. Together we have a much more powerful voice working to obtain federal and provincial resources for the much-needed prevention, treatment, and housing.
• Do a needs assessment and act
We need to know who’s living on our streets. Are there attractants in our city we can work to mitigate? Should we consider private nuisance actions for landlords allowing troublesome behaviours to go unchecked and into neighbourhoods? Do we offer security escorts for residents who don’t feel safe walking to a parking area or waiting for a bus (modelled after University Campus Security).
Funding the Strategy is expensive. Not acting will cost more. We currently spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on emergency and police responses as do businesses on private security. How do we measure the cost of our own loss of freedom and safety, and risks to our economy, businesses, liveability, and tourism reputation?
Balancing compassion for those who are creating unacceptable behaviours in our city with the safety of our citizens is not easy. How does a disabled adult navigate to their supportive workplace through a group of persons behaving unacceptably? We cannot lose our freedom and sense of safety on our streets.
We are at a crisis, and I do not support waiting for yet another strategy or report. We must act now.
What is essential is separating homelessness from the open drug scene and associated unlawful activity. There has always been a homeless population in Campbell River. However, we now have a much more aggressive criminal element working within that homeless population. This situation has gone from bad to worse.
Campbell River has become a collector point for social services on the North Island. People are drawn here from the smaller communities seeking services and can’t or won’t leave.
Campbell River is a small community severely understaffed in police and emergency services. This has reached a critical point, and I would like to see an increase in RCMP members. Unfortunately, each new officer requires a 0.7 % tax increase. We will have to be diligent in raising revenue. This, combined with a smaller community with few resources for policing and emergency services, puts a strain on our community. Campbell River is understaffed in RCMP officers for its size, but given the issue of collecting more people in need, we are severely understaffed.
If possible, I would like to see the recruitment of more Indigenous officers. Campbell River currently has only one Indigenous officer on our roster, and we should have at least three to match our community demographics.
The council must campaign to ensure the Crown courts are not a revolving door for repeat offenders. Too often, our officers have made arrests only to see the persecuted walk free hours later. There are no longer any consequences for bad behaviour.
It is not the fault of the social services supplied by the province, but many of the crimes we see locally are performed by clients of the provincial social programs. There is a push from multiple municipalities to have the province pay for a percentage of the emergency services their clients use. The number of city resources the crime and open drug scene use is unacceptable. 1.4 officers are dedicated to the overdose prevention center. These officers can and should be used elsewhere in our community.
Many years ago, the city derived a crime reduction strategy. This strategy has many excellent recommendations. For example, one suggestion is to tie the number of officers to the community’s population. This has not happened.
No matter where we go from here, the community is ready for a change. This is the single most talked about issue in our society today. If City Hall does not take drastic measures to solve this issue, the people of Campbell River will start taking it upon themselves, which would not end well for anyone.
I have spoken with businesses, employees, and healthcare workers to get as much information as I can from both ends of the spectrum on this issue. From healthcare workers wanting to help anyone and everyone, to business owners getting in fistfights with drug users for assaulting staff and stealing, the existing approach isn’t working, and throwing more money at this only makes the problem larger.
The first step to alleviate the problem is to slow down the flow of homeless/addicted or mental health people moving into our city as of right now. Our current resources are already bursting at the seams and we need to ease that backlog, NOT add to it. The last time I spoke with mental health counselors, they indicated you were looking at 60 to 90 days to see someone for help. It’s widely known other communities have been dumping off marginalized people in Campbell River and this needs to be publicly addressed and dealt with by stronger leadership. The shortcomings of senior executives at both BC Housing and Island Health also need to be addressed as they have not helped, and by following policies that have failed in places such as Chicago, New York, the Tenderloin District in San Francisco since the late 1970’s are just going to continue to make things worse for Campbell River. These marginalized people coming here are not going to get help with the system backlog we have, and will then contribute to the downtown issues and criminal behaviour that is currently getting worse.
Next, we need proper levels of services including police and at the Island Health facilities in our city. My heart goes out to the local frontline healthcare workers who have had to endure unacceptable working conditions, staff shortages, abuse and assault all due to lack of proper staffing. We should also look to connect and expand local programs like Habitat for Humanity who already have a strong program in place to help lower income households. I volunteered there for 8 weeks before I started my current job, and it’s a fantastic organization and their building program is a great start to this problem as well.
With the current inflation issues for us all, staffing shortages in critical sectors, and the financial obligations that the majority of our small businesses face, we need to have these support systems capable of helping Campbell River residents. I want to get ahead of the bottleneck sooner rather than later. An example of a worry of mine, is when the businesses in town have to repay the CEBA Covid loan program. Almost 90% of small businesses in Canada received either $40,000 to $60,000 dollars as a loan to offset lost revenue. At this time, if the loans are not paid back early, they will convert to 2-year loans with annual payments of over $20,000 or $30,000 because of the interest. If a business isn’t able to increase revenues to cover this, that is the equivalent of a laid off employee for EVERY one of those businesses. Another would be the increased interest rates facing all borrowers in Campbell River. We need to get ahead of issues such as these and have available help for Campbell River residents who will need it.
GROUP 1 CANDIDATES: HERE
Candidates not responding yet: Doug Chapman, Ron Kerr.