City of Powell River councillors reviewed concern about a perceived increase in crime rate in the city.
At the February 15 committee of the whole meeting, councillors reviewed correspondence from Jarret Gustafson, who wrote that he could assure councillors the crime rate is going up.
Gustafson, in his correspondence, outlined a number of instances of crime. He stated he had seen the police at least six times in conjunction with crime.
“Good, hardworking people are afraid to keep their doors unlocked now because of how bad the crime has gotten,” stated Gustafson. “And if that is not bad enough, I’ve heard of the possibility of a second and third set of housing being built to accommodate these people. How bad does it have to get before you finally step in and do something?
“How are these people who’ve been arrested over and over continuously allowed out again and again?”
Councillor Maggie Hathaway said she’d like to acknowledge Gustafson for writing and letting council know about his concerns.
Councillor Rob Southcott said the concerns expressed in Gustafson’s letter have been expressed by others. Southcott added that it was his understanding that various emergency services in the community also have concerns with not only crime itself, but what’s understood to be causes.
“My concern is the same concern as has been expressed over a period of time,” said Southcott. He asked if the city’s social planning department had been involved with agencies or others regarding the matter.
Chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said the social planner and other staff have been involved with a lot of the agencies in the city on a broad range of issues.
“Our social planner has been well engaged with a number of the groups,” said Brewer.
Councillor Cindy Elliott said what is being seen is frustration in the community without a clear process of how people can get involved.
“I have noticed that our ability to have a community-level conversation with our policing agency seems to be difficult in this town,” said Elliott. “Something could be done where we have a bit more of a formal process to address concerns and talk about policing issues in our community.”
Councillor George Doubt said he appreciated the correspondence because as Southcott pointed out, it’s a concern many people in the community have. Doubt said it is his opinion that increases in crime that people are telling councillors about, which they feel is happening, has a lot to do with a bunch of factors. He said the opioid crisis is one, homelessness is another, and the cost of housing that leads to homelessness is part of that.
“We know we have an increased number of homeless in the community since 2019 when the supportive housing was built,” said Doubt. “There are more now than there were at the beginning because of the increased number of people on the street, and that has an impact. We need to find ways to deal with it.
“I’m not sure that putting more people in jail is the right solution but we need to work on solutions. I think what councillor Elliott is talking about, getting more community involvement, is something to look at. I look forward to having a good debate and getting the social planning department involved.”
Communities are fed up, says mayor
Mayor Dave Formosa said that at the last mayors’ meeting with provincial minister of municipal affairs Josie Osborne, this was a big topic.
“The majority of the mayors brought this up and said how their communities are fed up,” said Formosa. “They feel they are being totally overlooked in favour of these people with the sickness. It’s a big issue.
“There was a lot of concern about not enough funding and the fact that this has gotten way out of control. The public in all of these communities are not happy; they are scared and they’ve lost their quality of life and peaceful enjoyment of their businesses, homes and neighbourhoods. [The mayors] were appealing with the ministry to come up with some strategy and funding.”
Formosa said there was discussion among mayors about the lack of desire by crown council to take on these issues.
“It’s a problem we all have,” added Formosa.
He said he’d received a call that day from an individual who had made a significant investment in property on Joyce Avenue and that the winter shelter across the street has put a lot of fear into the seniors living in the properties.
Formosa said he explained that the health and housing authorities want to have people who are sick close to services and that seems to be the norm.
“Obviously, we need to do a better job somehow and it’s not being fulfilled,” said Formosa.
Councillor Jim Palm said there is no easy fix. He said putting housing in place does not solve the situation.
“It is very frustrating,” said Palm. “We want to deal with this but our hands are tied. The more housing we put in place the more effects we are going to see.”
Southcott made a motion that staff be directed to discuss this issue with social planners to see if there is anything more the city can do to assist with the situation.
Hathaway said the motion perhaps should be that staff be directed to meet with the service provider at the winter shelter. Council voted unanimously for the motion.