This is my second post on some of the social issues affecting the city. The first part dealt with the ways we’re helping individuals with substance abuse challenges. This post will discuss some of the other parts of the puzzle.
We want to get people off the street and into some sort of housing, whether it’s a shelter, transitional housing or their own place.
Members of the Brantford Downtown Outreach Team (BDOT) are in constant contact with homeless people, getting to know them and their problems. The team members help the homeless find accommodation, counselling and treatment, such as detox or mental health programs.
In some cases, the outreach workers can help a homeless person return home or find permanent accommodation. In other cases, they encourage them to go to one of our shelters. Nova Vita, the Salvation Army and Rosewood House have about 90 beds. Much of the year, that’s sufficient. In winter, when the need rises, we use motel rooms for the overflow.
But some people don’t want to go into shelters because they don’t want to abide by the rules: no drugs, no weapons, respect the curfews, etc. The rules are there to protect residents and staff.
Unfortunately, in some cases, those who decline help are people with significant mental health issues. Mental health providers have few options to deal with people who decline treatment. I believe that improving the Mental Health Act to allow more residential care options would help. That’s something we have to continue lobbying the Ontario government to improve. Meanwhile, the BDOT members will continue to get people the help they need.
The Community Drug Strategy team is also looking at creating a drug treatment, or diversion court, modelled after a successful program in Hamilton. The court would give offenders the choice of entering a court-supervised drug treatment program as an alternative to a criminal penalty. Being caught up in the criminal court system can be a powerful motivator for people who want to turn their lives around.
While our first goal is to always to help people, we have to balance that with protecting public safety.
Drug trafficking must be attacked on a regional level. The Brantford Police Service works closely with counterparts across Southern Ontario to go after traffickers. There have been several significant busts. Earlier this year, Brantford Police received a provincial grant of $1.5 million to target gangs and gun crime.
There’s a role for senior levels of government to play in enforcement. MP Larry Brock is pushing the government to revise bail rules which sometimes result in dangerous people being put back on the street.
We’re also stepping up enforcement.
In the downtown, we now have police officers walking the beat 24-7. We have installed closed circuit cameras to aid crime prevention and investigation.
Just recently we launched a new program involving eight special constables assigned primarily to the downtown. These constables can enforce a variety of laws such as the Criminal Code, Trespass Act, Mental Health Act and others.
The city also has a security team that keeps an eye on city-owned properties, such as parks and community centres. They also patrol the downtown parking garage.
Having a lot of eyes in the area can act as a deterrent to crime and unseemly behavior.
The city has a protocol in place to deal with encampments, or tent cities. When tents pop up in an area, we send out a social services team to help the people get services, such as shelter, medical treatment or other care. Hopefully, it will be enough to get them off the street.
If they don’t move out in a few days, a bylaw officer drops by to explain that they can’t continue to trespass. Finally, if they stay on site, the police will evict them.
It does mean that, to some extent, we’re just moving people around, but that’s all we have. The law does not allow us to arrest people because they’re homeless or trespassing. The only power police have is to remove them.
It does, though, give us a point of contact with the homeless. We do find that some get tired of moving around and ultimately accept offers of help from our social workers.
A few years ago, we had a major encampment, Love City, which was causing neighbourhood concerns, so police closed it down. But it did work out well for some of the people. They moved into our transition housing building on Marlene Ave where they got shelter and counselling to help them turn things around and move on to their own places.
These are not easy problems to solve. Cities across Canada – in fact, cities around the world – face them as well. We must continue to be creative and compassionate in looking for solutions that will help the homeless and ensure all of us can live in peace and safety.