Handling homeless in the works

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A made-in-Chatham-Kent policy to deal with homelessness encampments is currently in the works.

According to Chatham-Kent Police Services chief Gary Conn, the encampment response protocol is in the final stages of review before being submitted to municipal council for approval.

“The protocol will apply as a general framework for managing encampments on our public lands,” Conn said, noting it is sensitive to an Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision that ruled against a plan by the Region of Waterloo to evict a homeless encampment on public lands.

The Waterloo ruling found that an eviction would violate the Charter-protected rights of the homeless to life because of danger from exposure to the elements.

“It’s a very sensitive issue and we have to be sensitive to the decision,” Conn said. “We’re taking a person-centred approach to ensure we’ve exhausted all supports before even considering enforcement action.”

Conn, Chatham-Kent Fire & Rescue chief Chris Case, several municipal councillors, and other top administrative staff were on hand at a recent forum at the Boardwalk on the Thames building to discuss ways to deal with crime and safety in Chatham’s downtown.

A number of problems – mainly related to encampments and nuisance crimes perpetrated by mentally ill and homeless people – were raised at the meeting.

Conn said police and social services are looking at a number of options to address the issues. One includes creating a police satellite office downtown that would be staffed by police and frontline emergency and social services providers. Police headquarters sits on the corner of Third and King streets, also in the downtown.

The satellite office is still in the preliminary stages, Conn added, noting the idea needs to be funded and would need to go the C-K budget for review.

Another way to tackle crime, he said, is to add more CCTV cameras to the four already in the downtown. Conn said the cameras have been very useful to date in catching criminals, including the ones involved in the Oct. 1 incident in Tecumseh Park where eight youths swarmed two men in their 20s.

Conn said six youth have been charged, with two facing charges of assault causing bodily harm. Two of the assailants remain unidentified.

The cameras, including one at the Chatham cenotaph, were installed in in July this year and Conn said the results of the pilot project still need to be analyzed sometime next year.

Conn said that other methods of handling crime in Chatham-Kent include hiring more officers and introducing body cameras for police.

Conn said a four-month independent study of the rank and file was carried out by Deloitte Canada earlier this year. It recommends hiring a number of new officers. The 132-page report will be coming to council in November.

When the CKPS was formed in 1998, Conn said police received between 38,000 to 39,000 calls annually, but that number has risen to an average of 80,000 calls, meaning the service is often running short-staffed.

A pilot project to add police body cameras was recently approved by the Chatham-Kent Police Services Board. Conn said it dovetails with the cameras contained in patrol cars and will begin with a small number of officers.

“One of the key benefits of body cameras is that they build on public trust, transparency and accountability, Conn said, while providing extra safety for officers themselves.

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