EDITORIAL – Punishment for street criminals is the elephant in the room

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

LONG-STANDING CALLS for complex-care facilities are finally being acted upon by the provincial government; unfortunately, Kamloops isn’t part of the picture.

Four complex-care housing sites will be established, all of them in the Lower Mainland. The objective is to provide services to those who need to straighten out their lives.

Advocates for the homeless have been saying that the answer to problems on the street is about much more than housing, and they’re absolutely right. The objective of complex-care housing is to provide wrap-around services for those who need more than a bed.

People with mental-health challenges and/or substance addictions, for example, would have direct access to treatment. The first four facilities at the Coast will serve about 100 people.

Kamloops could use some of those units — there are about three dozen people here who are in need of them.

Given the differences between the Lower Mainland and our part of the province, putting one of the facilities here would have made sense for comparison purposes.

But there’s another issue that needs to be discussed. Accommodation in the four housing projects will be strictly voluntary. The “voluntary” word is emphasized in every discussion about shelters, housing or treatment centres.

It’s the elephant in the room in the ongoing discussion of the housing continuum. The sad fact is that, while we do our best to provide for our street population, some of those we try to help are out-and-out criminals in need of serious rehabilitation.

There seems to be a broken link between social housing, treatment and the justice system. Why shouldn’t those convicted of repeated crimes associated with their addictions and social conditions be sentenced to treatment?

It’s not about rounding people up and throwing them in jail; it’s about closing the circle.

The Province is to be commended for moving in the right direction but it could do much better when it comes to keeping the streets safe.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (9647 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – Punishment for street criminals is the elephant in the room

  1. I have read the article in KTW reagrding complex care needs for people who have brain injury due to drug use.

    Faith-based institutions are no longer able to provide the complex care needed because volunteers are instead being replaced by trained staff.
    I would question Mr. Mazzotta’s logic in feeling churches are no longer able to care for those who have drug-related brain injuries but it is OK to place those folks within walking distance of a public park that has a kids’ playground.

  2. Street “criminals” (but perhaps almost all criminals) are the result of serious trauma and absolutely unimaginable childhood conditions. We also know the prison system is under challenges. We also know there have been (and continues to this day) bad decisions and/or the lack of decisions made by people in power. Who needs more punishment is an open question in my opinion. But in the former case it is justifiable (a bit) as a matter of survival. What can we say about the latter? What are the justifications for legislative, judiciary and enforcement missteps?

  3. When I was in college I volunteered at a state mental hospital. It was a job I wanted to aspire to…well being a psychiatrist. Anyhow, the place was shut down, as well as most other facilities, and then people complained about vagrants and “weird” people wandering the streets homeless. Where did people think these individuals would go? Even if they weren’t there for criminal activity I can’t imagine they had big loving homes that they decided to leave. The whole thing is absurd and makes my mind spin. I didn’t go into psychiatry, which I still regret, but back then medical school, which meant more college, was a turn off to me. Little did I know I would go to three other colleges over the course of my young adult life and get advanced degrees. I should’ve just gone back then. Oh well….hindsight bias!

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