Hamilton’s Downtown is a beautiful place, especially to sit in Gore Park and read a book during a beautiful summer day.
The past two weeks we’ve witnessed a repeat of the same old tired stories about downtown being an undesirable place due to nuisance loitering in the downtown core. For good measure, toss in mention of the methadone clinic as one of downtown’s blights.
I live downtown and live near some of the services some consider to be “undesirable” nuisances. They are part of the downtown core of a major city, and are important to making downtown better. Only by helping people can we as a society address the social ills that challenge our downtown.
Right House Loitering and Drug DealingThe people that gather in front of The Right House are patrons of the Tim Hortons inside, they are customers. Some smoke, cigarette smoking is not illegal, and it is a public sidewalk.
There is infrequent drug dealing in front of The Right House. This cannot be solved by posting a police officer on the sidewalk – this will only move the problem somewhere else.
Police are addressing this problem, as a resident of the downtown, I attend neighbourhood meetings during which Hamilton Police area crime managers update the community on these problems.
ACTION patrols arrest the dealers, they are released, temporarily move to a different location, and eventually return.
To solve this problem, we need the courts to issue stiffer sentences against dealers.
We also need to invest in drug rehabilitation problems that decrease the demand that drug dealers make their living from.
This brings us to the methadone clinic. It is not part of downtown’s problem, it is part of the solution.
I walk by the clinic multiple times per day, it’s between my office and City Hall.
The crowd out front will not be in the next Tourism Hamilton guide, and many are smoking cigarettes.
They are not people we should be targeting, in fact they are part of the solution downtown – they are recovering from drug addiction.
We as a society decided in the 1990s to cut funding for mental health services, and instead dump our mentally ill into private residential care facilities or worst into our homeless shelters.
Today, we see our mentally ill suffering in the downtown core as some of the RCFs do not provide a social space for their residents during the day. Our homeless shelters only provide overnight accommodation, and we do not have enough day programs – such as skills training – for our most needy residents. Many are socializing in the downtown core near these services.
The solution is not police, it is better social supports and regulation of private RCFs.
Misunderstanding ACTION’s Role
Hamilton Police’s ACTION program is not designed to address nuisance problems. It is to address crime trends and provide high visibility patrols to prevent crime.
There is a reason that crime is down across the Downtown core – ACTION deploys to crime hotspots, provides the ground level information that is used by VICE and major crime to get convictions, and further provides referral to programs such as the Social Navigator to address the root challenges of our city’s most vulnerable residents.
Diverting ACTION from crime prevention to dealing with nuisance matters such as loitering is an expensive inefficient means of addressing the root causes listed above. The annual cost of equipping and paying a single police officer is in the six-figures.
Solutions Won’t Come Easy
Our challenges are complex, the solutions will need to reflect that complexity.
Passing a bylaw that only cosmetically covers up the symptoms, instead of addressing the root causes will only waste resources that can be used to truly help our downtown.
Note: Live Coverage of Monday’s Debate on the Proposed Bylaw Starts at 10am on JoeyColeman.ca