By JEREMY HEIGHTON
Executive Director, North Shore BIA
THIS PAST WEEK, I and Bryce Herman, our President, attended the annual Business Improvement Association of B.C. conference in Surrey. The conference looks at all things BIA for Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C., Washington, Idaho and Montana. There are many key themes in these conferences: beautification, street activation (events and space management), operations, and advocacy.
This year, while all the central themes existed, much of the conversation centered around street management: not the events kind, the homeless, Opioid, and supported housing kind.
What is clear is, in Kamloops, we are miles ahead of some centers in the way we are working on our street level issues. Where we have embraced the need for effective and accountable supported housing, other areas are grappling with tent cities and rampant vagrancy.
Where we are working very hard on coordinated street response, other jurisdictions are struggling to put the pieces together and relying heavily on police to manage issues.
One of the underlying conversations during the conference was the lack of teeth in both the criminal code and mental heath acts across most jurisdictions (including U.S.), which significantly impacts our ability to assist those individuals who are currently unmedicated, unmanageable, and unhousable.
Until we can re-instate some consistent, accessible and credible institutional options for those who are unable to manage their own health, we will continue to see street entrenched folks who exhibit less desirable behaviours such as: panhandling, begging, vagrancy, public urination/defecation, and psychotic breaks.
The other conversation surrounds policing and the perceived lack of response to street level drug dealing, petty thefts, shop lifting and other “minor” offenses. We see these minor offenders throughout Kamloops on BMX bikes and street corners, trading their wares in shady corners.
There is a feeling across many jurisdictions that while high level enforcement and prevention (such as gangs) is occurring, many neighbourhoods are being left to fend for themselves, unless physical violence is involved.
I’ve heard from many of our members who call RCMP for response on shoplifting (a cost that is passed along to customers) that this response may take hours. This means the cost of detaining a shoplifter until police arrives far exceeds the value of the goods stolen.
Even when police do respond, the offender is often turned back to the street with little or no consequence. This leads to an entrenchment of petty crime, as petty criminals know they wont be prosecuted. When they are apprehended, they often express casutic indignation and excessive anger at any who would challenge them.
These are very real, daily challenges across the country. Here in Kamloops, many community leaders have begun to work on our local response metric. We are working to find communal options to re-balance our communities and rebuild confidence in our response agencies.
Additionally, I have volunteered to sit on a national Policy Development Committee to look at how we can advocate with government to change the Mental Health Act and Criminal Codes to recreate some balance in individual and community rights to allow us to help those who cannot help themselves, and to look for solutions to petty crime that can hold us hostage in our own communities.
The road before us is long and winding, but not insurmountable. All we ask our communities is to support us as we move forward by talking with us about what is working, and what is not. If you want to give us information, please click on our “Tell Us” tab on www.nsbia.com, complete the Incident, Graffiti, or Needle forms and arm us with the knowledge that supports our evolution in community response.
Jeremy Heighton is the executive director of the North Shore Business Improvement Association. he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.