Just when they thought it couldn’t get worse, it does. The people living and working in and around the highway strip are bracing themselves as the 24 “temporary” sleeping cabins for the street homeless just east of the highway on Trunk Road are being populated.
Two other cabin sites — Julian Street and the Mound — are on leased property that expires at the end of the month. Most of the folks from those sites will be moved to the Trunk Road “Village”.
The highway strip already has the Warmland shelter at the north end and a batch of motel rooms contracted to house the street homeless at the south end in the Ramada.
This is happening as the community is trying to digest the findings of a police report showing crimes against people and against property in the Cowichan Valley during the third quarter of 2021 soared as much as 300 per cent in the core area compared to a year earlier.
It’s long past time for our Member of Parliament to “tour” the devastated area, and certainly past the time when North Cowichan Council members have a look-see. Like, where have you been?
The situation along the highway corridor has become untenable with residents and business operators concerned that it will only continue to get worse.
Residents in electoral areas within the Cowichan Valley Regional District, meanwhile, are almost completely free of reported crimes, experiencing just 36 reported incidents of what is called “Mischief to Property”, although that was an increase of 80 per cent over the same period last year.
The Cowichan Tribes area reported a 300 per cent increase in “Uttered Threats”. In the City of Duncan, this category of reported crime increased 150 per cent, while North Cowichan saw an increase of 13 per cent.
The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP report to North Cowichan council in mid-February reads like a community, or at least part of it, loosing control.
While this policing report contains distressing numbers it must be appreciated that this just represents incidents that have been reported. Talk to any of the people who work along the strip and you will hear that they have learned to tread lightly, that they exercise great care in moving the street people along in hopes that the general public can feel safe to approach those businesses.
The common complaint along the strip is that a significant component of the people being housed in the units have serious mental health and addiction problems and are repeat offenders. They are not deterred by by-law officers or the hired security people who can do little more than try to get people to move along.
Open drug dealing and using are virtually everyday occurrences. Overdoses on toxic drugs occur in broad daylight in parking lots, with ambulance paramedics administering naloxone to bring the poor buggers back to life, while passers-by try not to stare. One local worker says the recovered addict is usually patted on the head and sent along to overdose again, sometimes within four hours.
We’ve got disturbed people on our streets who are seemingly incapable of looking after themselves but all we seem to be able to do is put a roof over their troubled heads. Even then, the hardcore troublemakers are categorized as hard-to-house and aren’t given access to the sleeping cabins. They are free to wonder the streets at all hours of day or night looking for their next fix, or for something to steal to pay for that fix.
Being “at large” is not a crime and there is little the police can do until something actually happens. Our policing/court systems are ill-equipped to deal with what is a mental health social problem, and senior government responsible for this area of jurisdiction are doing little.
This problem had its beginning almost 50 years ago when the provincial of the day decided it was mean and inhumane to house people with mental health problems in gigantic mental hospitals like Riverview in Coquitlam and Tranquille in Kamloops. Even our neighbours in Washington State were following suit, closing a large facility near Sedro Wooley.
The idea was to let these folks return to their communities where they would be closer to family and friends. Mental health services, the government said, would be distributed throughout the province and people in need would be treated closer to home.
But, it never happened, at least on a scale that was required, …and its not improved today.
Ask any parent, who has a child caught up in addiction, how enormously difficult, or impossible, it is to find available treatment space. It is as bad or worse for adults, even if they wanted to kick their addictions, to find help. The so-called wrap-around support associated with the sleeping cabins is little more than a bandaid.
That’s what we are attempting to deal with today. The current provincial government has made some token gestures towards providing focussed mental health and addiction treatment resources.
We are not caught in a homelessness problem that is forcing people onto the street; we are entrapped in a mental health and an addiction problem that is not being dealt with. To be sure, there are individuals and families who are having a hell of a time trying to find affordable housing and it does these people to disservice to equate them with the street people that plague the strip.
Simply putting a roof over the heads of our troubled individuals doesn’t bring them any closer to being helped. What we are doing now isn’t working. Our local governments, wringing their hands, putting bylaw officers and security guards on the street and demand the police do more to protect us, while more shelters are being built, keeps us going down a slippery slope.