COLUMN: Big-city problems land here

This plywood shed built by a man named “Nate” was located on a municipal walkway on the south bank of the Thames River. It has since been dismantled.

Editior’s note: This column was written prior to the early Monday morning police incident in downtown Chatham…

Just what the heck is happening in downtown Chatham?

We’ve got teenaged kids swarming bystanders…repeatedly.

There are folks sleeping in lobbies and even elevators of buildings.

We’ve had an occupation of the band shell in Tecumseh Park by the homeless.

People built shanties on public property.

We’ve had parking lots turned into campgrounds.

Some residents are reportedly afraid to go out of their building after dark, even for a walk to a nearby restaurant in our downtown.

Some say it’s the homeless. Others say teenagers are to blame.

Well, both are correct; and yet both are inaccurate.

There has been an uptick in occurrences in the Tecumseh Park neighbourhood since the homeless shelter went in on Murray Street.

I’ve seen some pretty disturbing video…be it from a teenager’s cell phone capturing a swarming by teenagers in Tecumseh Park as they knocked a man to the ground and put the boots to him, or from security cameras on the front porches of Murray Street residents late at night as wastoids go wandering by.

Don’t blame the people who own the shelter. Blame it on a lack of police presence.

Those who have beds in the shelter aren’t out after hours, so it is tough to blame them for any late-night crime.

The municipality opted to put the emergency shelter there, at least until May of 2025. Surely municipal staff spoke with the police in advance of this decision, and surely the Chatham-Kent Police Service stepped up patrols in the region as a result, right?

We aren’t saying all homeless folks are criminals. But there are enough that a taint is placed upon an entire group of people. Heck, we at The Voice have had two wheeled plastic garbage totes stolen from our property so far in 2024…all because there is a steady stream of homeless coming to a nearby business to dumpster dive and grab nearly expired food and drink that has been discarded.

We have photos of smiling folks going through the bin. Some have offered to seek out our stolen bins, but we’ve declined the offers, due to the potential for them to just steal some other business owner’s or homeowner’s garbage tote and drag it back over here.

When we first learned of the dumpster diving, we thought it was win-win, as folks in need get nourishment and hydration, while less material is sent to be landfilled.

But then the totes went missing. And then someone torched the dumpster.

We aren’t in the downtown core, but we are close enough to areas where homeless people who don’t want to live in the shelter and prefer to camp in the wooded areas along the river and along the abandoned railway tracks can easily get over here.

As for the downtown, maybe it’s time to step up patrols in the core and in Tecumseh Park area after dark. And if police say they’ve done that, then, step things up a little more. Park a cruiser in the Cultural Centre parking lot as an officer does paperwork, or behind the band shell on the west end of Stanley Avenue.

Perhaps more CCTV cameras should be installed in the downtown core as well, especially in Tecumseh Park.

Or maybe, just maybe, police can walk a beat through the downtown once again.

More needs to be done to deter teens from gathering in numbers and assaulting innocent people.

Additional efforts can be made to deter the establishment of tent communities in our parks. Sure, police brass will say there is legal precedent elsewhere that prevents them from tearing down homeless clusters, but there are laws in place they can utilize to thwart attempts to squat in public places.

Do we have law enforcement personnel or keepers of the peace? It all depends on who is leading the service.


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