The Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce held the second of two town hall business meetings on Wednesday, March 2, at College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, discussing crime and homelessness.
Speakers for part two included Polly Sutherland from ANKORS, Sgt. Barry Graham of the RCMP, Rachel Nicholas of Street Angels and Diane Whitehead of the Ktunaxa Nation.
The meeting was hosted by the chamber, while Chris Botterill of GenEx Marketing was the moderator.
This meeting follows on the heels of the first town hall, which was held on Thursday, Feb. 24 at the Heritage Inn Convention Centre. Speakers at the first meeting included Mayor Lee Pratt, Kootenay East MLA Tom Shyptika and MP Rob Morrison.
The meetings were intended for the Cranbrook business community, to discuss rising crime and homelessness in the city. Attendees had the chance to submit questions to all of the speakers.
One of the main takeaways from Wednesday’s meeting was a message of compassion, understanding and education. All speakers mentioned how they are aware of, and feel for, the business owners who have seen losses and hardships because of crime.
Botteril opened Wednesday’s meeting explaining that the Community Connections Society of Southeast BC (CCSSEBC) and BC Housing were invited to attend the town hall. Neither attended, with CCSSEBC explaining that because they are under the funding umbrella of BC Housing, they would not be able attend without a BC Housing representative present.
The organizations did answer a few questions that were submitted by the chamber, including what the rental rate is at the Travelodge shelter, how long it will stay open for, and whether or not a rumour of people being “shipped from the coast” to our community is true.
The responses indicated that the rental portion of income assistance that goes to BC Housing through the Travelodge shelter is $375 per person per month. The Travelodge shelter will not close until the new shelter is open. There are 40 beds at the new shelter, but not everyone staying at the Travelodge will want to transfer.
Botterill said, as per their response, “it is not the policy of BC Housing to transport people from community to community, unless they are assisting someone to return to their home town.”
The first question posed to the panel asked what citizens can do to help, aside from donating cash to service organizations.
Many of the responses were similar, asking the community to educate themselves about harm reduction and the vulnerable population, asking the community to receive naloxone training, and to have compassion and understanding.
“As people learn why we do what we do in harm reduction, they’ll understand better and that will break down the stigma and discrimination that we’re seeing here,” said Sutherland. “My heart goes out to the businesses, I know that this has been very frustrating. It has been frustrating for us as an organization — not having these issues addressed at a community level, so I am thrilled that we’re here.”
Sgt. Graham says that stereotyping is “not fair in a lot of events.”
“There is a property crime issue in town, we do know that there’s a component of that with our vulnerable population, they’re not the only ones responsible for it,” he said.
Nicholas, who works for the Ktunaxa Nation social sector, overseeing Street Angels, says the community needs to work together.
“One of the biggest things the community can do to support is just recognizing that we’re all wanting the same solutions. We all want a safer community. We all want people to be healthy. The Ktunaxa Nation has said that we are too small to leave even one citizen behind, and that’s a stance that I take into my work and I feel in Cranbrook we need to take that stance as well,” said Nicholas.
She adds that writing local government to express more support for mental health and social work supports can help, too.
Whitehead added similar statements, saying many people experiencing homelessness are suffering from mental health issues.
There were several questions directed specifically to the RCMP. Some included what the best course of action is when confronted with someone stealing or doing drugs, when to call 911, and what to do if the same individuals are repeatedly noticed stealing or exhibiting suspicious behaviour.
Sgt. Graham responded saying to never put yourself or an employee in harm’s way.
“If someone believes a crime is in progress, the quicker we can get the call, the quicker we can get there, the more we can do,” he said. “It’s case by case, it’s difficult to say when something’s an emergency. If you think that the police should get there right away, there’s something happening that someone’s safety is imminent, then [call] 911. It’s discretionary for each situation.”
Nicholas encouraged businesses to reach out to Street Angels if they see the same individuals or group of individuals doing something illegal or suspicious.
“Street Angel has been around for ten years and we really try to encourage [clients] to represent the community. We rely on businesses and their donations to stay open, so we often have conversations with our clients and talk to them about that. When we first opened, [clients] were in and out of the businesses down on Baker Street and causing a lot of havoc, so we sat down with business owners, got a real sense of what was going on, and then talked to those individuals about their expectations in the community… We are willing to have that conversation and to try and alleviate the pressure from the RCMP.”
Another question came up about what social service organizations are doing to help reduce crimes. The conversation went on for a few minutes, but Whitehead explained that in some cases those individuals will no longer have access to services or have reduced services available.
Sutherland added that they are working to create a peer navigator position that will work with the vulnerable community and be a point of contact for both business owners and the RCMP.
RCMP was also asked if there has been an increase in transient or new people committing crimes in the community, and if there are specific areas with an increase in crime, such as Theatre Road.
Sgt. Graham responded saying yes, there has been an increase in crime, and that it has gone underreported. He says that the local detachment has been struggling with staffing issues, but that should not deter business owners or residents from reporting crimes to the police.
“If we don’t know, we can’t help,” he said.
One resource that residents can use is the online crime reporting tool. It allows anyone to report a crime to the RCMP including damage or mischief to a property or vehicle under $5,000, hit and run to a property or vehicle, theft of bicycle under $5,000, lost property, etc.
Graham says that in 2018, the RCMP had interactions with 85 people who identified as ‘no fixed address’. In 2021 it was one less, 84.
“The interactions with those 84 were much higher,” he said. “But we’re also dealing with a lot of transient people … You recognize new faces … but it makes it difficult to stay on top of who’s who.”
Whitehead said the RCMP are “doing their jobs, doing the best they can.” She said that RCMP are making arrests, but the “justice system is broken.” She suggested writing to the government about changes to the justice system.
A question also arose about the replacement of the Community Mental Health Liaison position with the RCMP, which was formerly filled by Erin Stevenson. Graham says they are actively looking to hire that position, but it is not an easy one to fill. The local detachment is also working towards creating a COPS (community oriented policing services) program, which recruits and trains community volunteers.
There were many other questions posed throughout the hour-and-a-half-long town hall, including how social service agencies interface with Interior Health, and how the agencies are funded.
Interior Health and local organizations interface through different ways, and some funding does come from IH. That said, most of the funding for Street Angels, Ktunaxa mental health supports and ANKORS is “piece-mealed together,” Sutherland, Whitehead and Nicholas said.
“[Government funding] is very much based on the government’s flavour of the month… what’s happening in the lower-mainland,” Nicholas said.
Needles were a point of conversation, as they were at the first town hall. Sutherland says that ANKORS has a high needle return rate, around 80 per cent. She says she is working with the City to install sharps containers in different areas. She also says that needles can be obtained at pharmacies, health clinics and the hospital.
“ANKORS follows best practices from Interior Health when it comes to needle distribution,” she said.
ANKORS also has a ‘needle ninja’ program. Call 250-426-3383 and a trained volunteer will come to properly dispose of found needles.
There were questions and discussion around the new shelter, proposed to be located at 209 16th Ave N, beside the memorial arena.
Whitehead says that ANKORS, Community Connections and East Kootenay Addictions have been located in that area for the past 20 years.
“It has never been a problem, there has never been an incident,” she said.
One of the last questions posed revolved around the last meeting.
“Was there any statement made that you would like to address?” Botterill asked.
Sutherland reiterated the fact that Cranbrook does not currently have a “controlled injection site” as was suggested at the last meeting. There are harm reduction and overdose prevention services.
In a recent email to the Townsman, Interior Health said the following: “In 2021 new Episodic Overdose Prevention Services were successfully implemented in Cranbrook. These episodic (as needed) overdose prevention services are available at some health-care and social service settings. Services include monitoring for signs of overdose; providing harm reduction supplies such as take-home naloxone kits; and facilitating connections and referrals to other mental health and substance use services, including prescribed opioid use disorder treatment medications such as suboxone and methadone. People who need this service can contact the Cranbrook Health Unit.”
Last but not least, each speaker on the panel was offered a closing statement. They all had a similar thread, asking for understanding, education and compassion. They thanked the community and the chamber for the town hall and the open discussion.
“These are human beings,” said Nicholas in part of her statement. “These adults were children, that the system failed.”
“If we rush to judgement, we’re quick to abandon,” said Sgt. Graham.
“Treat people as human beings. Have compassion, understanding,” said Sutherland. “Addiction is a mental illness, not a choice.”
“Everyone has a story of why they’re there,” said Whitehead. “Seeing people come from the bottom and rising up, that comes with compassion and support … everyone needs to get on board and start educating yourself and understanding it, and not judge.”
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