Crime calls rise near homeless shelter

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Members of the Tecumseh Park Neighbourhood Association (TPNA) say reports of crime have risen substantially since a new homelessness shelter moved in.

But they also say co-operation and awareness among residents in the historic community has increased as well

Dan Comiskey, spokesman for the advocacy group, said more than 90 incidents were reported to police since Victoria Park Place set up shop on Murray Street in June.

“There were only 48 calls for the same area in 2021,” Comiskey told The Chatham Voice. “So, we know it’s gone up a lot.”

According to Comiskey, some of the calls were horrendous. One woman, a mother of four young children, made three distressing 9-1-1 calls in one week’s time.

One call involved a man assaulting a woman, he said.

The second call involved the same pair, with the woman being chased down the street by the man as he shouted obscenities.

In another case, the resident saw a woman passed out at the corner of Prince and Murray streets. She called 9-1-1, but while waiting for emergency response, a shelter worker happened by and was able to speak to the woman to find out what drugs she had used.

But those are just 9-1-1 calls, Comiskey said, adding there’s more. Based on eye-witness accounts and home security camera surveillance, he said residents reported around 70 incidents to the TPNA. They ranged from acts such as public urination and vomiting to petty thievery, to physical violence and drug and mental-health breakdowns.

“Children should not have to witness these types of incidents,” Comiskey noted. “People have begun to feel unsafe on the streets and in their own homes.”

Comiskey is hoping to raise awareness of the issue across Chatham-Kent and said he remains hopeful solutions can be found.

He said more people in the neighbourhood are venturing out walking the streets together, including many members of the Muslim community.

When asked by The Voice about the increase in the number of calls to police, Chatham-Kent director of employment and social service Polly Smith, said it was true.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Smith said, as some of the calls are coming from shelter workers and stayers.

“The biggest increase in calls is suspicious persons,” she explained.

“I am pleased residents are calling police when they have concerns; it makes it safer for all,” Smith said. “Employment and social services will continue to work with the neighbours and neighbourhood associations to try to alleviate fears and create trust relationships.”

Smith noted there were “already safety concerns” in the neighbourhood before Victoria Park Place moved in.

The area involving the 90 calls includes Colborne Street to Tecumseh Park to the Thames River, to the end of Stanley Street and the CP rail tracks.

According to Comiskey, the removal of dirty needles is another issue that needs to be addressed.

“This is just one of the things we need,” he added. “We also need more lighting and more police presence and patrols.”

Comiskey stressed that it doesn’t matter if those committing troublesome acts are shelter stayers, were shelter stayers, or have no connection to the shelter at all, as all local organizations need to step up to work on the problem.

“The Tecumseh Park neighbourhood is a beautiful and historic area of Chatham-Kent,” he explained, adding he’s optimistic that with the support of police, municipal staff, and the mayor and councillors “who voted to move the shelter to this location” problems can be targetted and solutions can be found.

“We’re going to keep on asking questions and reaching out,” Comiskey said.

The TPNA is serious about raising awareness, Comiskey said, noting it is starting its own podcast called “Connecting the Dots.”

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